FRANKFORT, KY (CHNI) - Kentucky voters this fall can place into the state constitution "victims' bill of rights" after the state House of Representatives Wednesday joined the state Senate in passing a constitutional ballot initiative popularly known as Marsy's Law.
Senate Bill 3, sponsored by Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, is named for a California woman murdered by her stalker in the mid-1980s.
If approved by voters this fall, the measure will add to the state constitution a set of rights for crime victims: right of notice of all court proceedings in the case; right to be present and heard at trial, pleading or sentencing; and right to notice of release of the accused. Rep. John Blanton, R-Salyersville, who carried the measure in the House and who is a former Kentucky State Police officer, said his law enforcement experience dealing with victims "drives me to support this bill."
He said victims often have fewer rights at law than those accused of harming them and Marsy's Law "seeks to balance the scales of justice."
Watching from the House gallery was Melissa Buchanan whose brother, Charlier Prater, was murdered in Lewis County in 2000. Four men were arrested and three of them released pending trial.
Two of them, Buchanan said, stalked her, called her on the phone and drove menacingly past her home. But because they did not commit a specific crime, she said, local prosecutors and law enforcement were powerless to help her.
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The measure is opposed by some defense attorneys who fear it is too broad, may weaken the rights of the accused before conviction and place more burdens on an already overloaded criminal justice system. But it had no problem in the General Assembly, sailing through the House on an 87-3 vote. It previously passed the Senate 34-1.
Westerfield pointed to the lack of debate in both chambers after the House vote Wednesday, including some trial attorneys in the legislature. Ashlea Christiansen, Executive Director of Marsy's Law Kentucky, thanked Westerfield and Blanton for sponsoring the measure as well as the 40,000 people who signed petitions seeking to have the question placed on the ballot this fall.
Buchanan was grateful, too.
"On behalf of my brother, my family and myself and crime victims everywhere - this is big," she said. "This is important to us."
When her brother was killed, Buchanan recalled she had to rely on local media for information about the case against his accused killers until the Kentucky Attorney's General entered the case and kept her informed.
Because it is a constitutional amendment, the measure required a three-fifths majority in each chamber and does not require the governor's signature. Its passage by both chambers ensures it will appear on the 2018 November ballot.