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Senate Vote Puts Victims' Rights Amendment Before Voters

Bret Hartman
AP Images for Marsy'
A photo of Marsy Nicholas sits against a chair during the Orange County Victims' Rights March and Rally, Friday, April 26, 2013, in Santa Ana, Calif.

Pennsylvania voters will decide whether to enumerate victims' rights in the state constitution, a proposal likely to appear on the November ballot.

The state Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to give its final approval, putting the state's version of Marcy's Law on the ballot as a constitutional amendment referendum.

The proposed amendment would give victims the right to be notified about, attend and weigh in during plea hearings, sentencings and parole proceedings.

Supporters argue there is a need to guarantee that victims aren't ignored in criminal proceedings.

Opponents, including the ACLU and defense attorneys, have said they are concerned the amendment could impinge on defendants' right to a fair and speedy trial, and that the amendment is vaguely worded.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, said the legislation will "contribute to a greater sense of justice being served here in the commonwealth."

Sen. Lisa Oscula, R-Northampton, called its provisions commonsense steps that will improve how victims are treated in the criminal justice system.

"I feel this will really empower victims at a time when they feel powerless," Oscula said.

An existing state law provides crime victims in Pennsylvania with access to services and information about hearings and the perpetrator's release from incarceration.

The proposed amendment, according to state prosecutors, would give victims legal standing to go to court if their rights under the two-decade-old Crime Victims Act have been violated.

The referendum could make the November ballot if it gets reviewed by the attorney general's office and is ready to be advertised by the first week in August. If it's approved in November, it would take effect in January.

The national Marcy's Law campaign is named for a 1983 California murder victim.

Police in other states have drawn attention and some criticism implementing their versions of Marcy's Law, which vary from state to state. Six states approved versions of Marcy's Law last year.

Last week, the Kentucky Supreme Court voided a proposed constitutional amendment passed by voters in November because the question was deemed to be vague and misleading.