Question 794 is Oklahoma’s version of the so-called Marsy’s Law, which came about in California in 2008. It was named for the sister of its strongest proponent, Henry T. Nicholas, a businessman in the semiconductor field. His sister, Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Days later, the accused killer was out on bail and confronted Nicholas and his mother at a grocery store. The family did not know the man had been released. Nicholas made it his mission to require that crime victims receive notification of similar decisions and founded a group, Marsy’s Law for All, to advocate for such a law in all states.
The law would amend the Oklahoma Constitution to reinforce and extend the rights of crime victims to be heard during court proceedings, to be notified of all their rights, and to have their rights protected equally to those of the accused.
To date, six states—California, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Ohio—have passed some form of Marsy’s Law. However, the Montana Supreme Court struck down that state’s 2016 measure as unconstitutional. In June this year, voters in South Dakota placed curbs on the state’s 2016 law after counties incurred unexpected costs in implementing new rights for victims. This Nov. 6, citizens of Oklahoma, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, and Florida will vote on their states’ versions of the law. Kentucky also may vote on the law, depending on whether a legal challenge that was pending in September is upheld. Many other states already have some type of victim’s rights laws, primarily passed in the 1980s and 1990s.
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PROPONENTS SAY: YES
- The measure would assure victims’ rights are protected by the state constitution in a manner equal to defendants’ rights.
- Victims would be informed immediately of their rights, would know of any court proceedings of the accused, as well as when and if a perpetrator were released.
- Victims would gain the right to be heard in any proceeding involving release, plea, sentencing, disposition, parole, and any proceeding during which the rights of the victim are at issue.
- The financial cost to state or local governments would be minimal. Other than notifying victims, there is little or no cost involved because some victims’ services are voluntarily provided now.
OPPONENTS SAY: NO
- The extensive notification requirements put an unreasonable financial burden on local court systems that lack the money for dedicated victims’ rights staff. The measure would require tracking and notifying thousands of crime victims about criminal cases and could cost millions of dollars.
- Crime victims already have some rights under the Oklahoma Constitution, including the rights to be informed if a sentence is overturned or a new trial is ordered, to receive protection and to a speedy disposition of the charges.
- The law as enacted in other states has come under scrutiny, making it subject to legal challenges.
- The definition of “victim” is vague: any person who is “directly or proximately harmed” by the crime. No distinction is made as to which crimes the law would apply.
This measure amends the provision of the Oklahoma Constitution that guarantees certain rights for crime victims. These rights would now be protected in a manner equal to the defendant’s rights. The measure would also make changes to victim’s rights, including:
- expanding the court proceedings at which a victim has the right to be heard;
- adding a right to reasonable protection;
- adding a right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay;
- adding a right to talk with the prosecutor; and
- allowing victims to refuse interview requests from the defendant’s attorney without a subpoena.
The Oklahoma Constitution currently grants victims’ rights to crime victims and their family members. This measure would instead grant these rights to crime victims and those directly harmed by the crime. Victims would no longer have a constitutional right to know the defendant’s location following arrest, during prosecution, and while sentenced to confinement or probation, but would have the right to be notified of the defendant’s release or escape from custody.
Under this measure, victims would have these rights in both adult and juvenile proceedings. Victims would be able to assert these rights in court and the court would be required to act promptly.