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Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules against victims' rights measure voters supported

Matt Rourke

Pennsylvania's highest court on Tuesday hammered a final nail into the coffin of a proposed victims' rights constitutional amendment that state voters supported by a large margin more than two years ago but has never gone into effect.

The justices ruled 6-1 that the sprawling proposal violated the Pennsylvania Constitution's requirement that amendments address a single topic to prevent lawmakers from bundling together items that might not pass on their own individual merits.

Unofficial tallies indicate the so-called “Marsy's Law” amendment question passed by a ratio of 3 to 1 in 2019, but a lower state court put that on hold while litigation played out. A Commonwealth Court judge previously ordered the Department of State to refrain from certifying those election results.

The amendment would have spelled out 15 rights for victims, including notification about cases and a right to attend and weigh in during plea hearings, sentencings and parole proceedings. It also would have addressed how victims can recover property and given them an ability to reject defense subpoenas.

Justice Debra Todd wrote in the majority opinion the amendment “was, in actuality, a collection of amendments” that were not sufficiently “interrelated in purpose and function.” She said the proposal would have brought “sweeping and complex changes" to the state's criminal justice process.