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Advocates rally for Marsy's Law in Idaho, opponents worry it's wrong for the state

Posted at 8:24 PM, Feb 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-07 07:58:55-05

BOISE — A proposed constitutional amendment aimed at protecting the legal rights of the victims of crime is causing some controversy here in Idaho after advocates and lawmakers rallied in support at the statehouse.

It’s called Marsy's Law, and it’s an effort to expand the rights of victims through things like restitution, protecting victims from a defendant, and making a victim aware of parole procedures, and it's making headway here in Idaho.

"Everyone knows a family, friend or a neighbor, or someone they care about, who has been a victim. Victims are human beings. They should have every right that every other person does," said Cherie Buckner-Webb, (D) Boise.

It's a law added to the Victims' Bill of Rights in California in 2008 that was implemented following the murder of Marsy Nicholas in California by an ex-boyfriend. Now it has been implemented in numerous states across the U.S., and advocates hope Idaho will be next.

"I'm kinda reeling from my daughter's murder trial, well, it was more of a plea bargain. She got murdered by traffickers, known traffickers, known gang members that run the I-5 corridor," said Penny Lee, mother of a victim.

If passed, advocates believe it would give people like Penny, stronger and constitutionally protected rights in our criminal justice system.

But the proposed constitutional amendment causes concern for some, who worry the law doesn't take into consideration the needs of Idaho crime victims, and that the cost of implementation is unclear.

"What you're seeing in Marsy's Law language is a little bit confusing, they're saying that crime victims don't have rights, that they don't have standing in the process, we've had a victims rights constitutional amendment on the books since 1994. If those rights are not working currently, then I think we need to be looking at local level reforms that could make sure that those promises are being upheld," said Kathy Griesmyer, Public Policy Strategist for ACLU Idaho.

Kathy recommends the state implement an Idaho version of the law, taking into consideration an assessment Boise State did through their Criminal Justice Department in 2015, where Idaho crime victims were interviewed about their experiences with Idaho's criminal justice system.

As a result of that assessment were 28 recommendations for the state for improving services for victims; like an ombudsman.

"Somebody who would be tasked with ensuring that county-level notifications that inform crime victims when a court hearing is coming up, or somebody's change in custody status, that that's actually being completed," said Griesmyer.

Then if something isn't working, she suggests allowing that person to investigate the discrepancies.

Marsy's law will be voted on by lawmakers in the coming weeks.