Frequently Asked Questions

What is Marsy’s Law for Iowa?

Marsy’s Law is seeking to elevate key rights of crime victims into the state’s Constitution to ensure that victims have rights that are equal, in stature, to the constitutional rights of the defendant. These constitutional protections for crime victims would include the following rights:

  • the right to be informed of their rights
  • the right to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect;
  • the right to reasonable protection from the accused;
  • the right to be notified, be present and be heard at court proceedings;
  • the right to notification of the status of the offender
  • the right to restitution;
  • and the right to enforce these rights in the criminal justice process.

 

Don’t we already have laws on the books to protect victims of crime?

Statutory rights are insufficient because they can be changed by simple majorities and are not consistently applied depending on where you live. However most significant, Iowa’s victims’ rights statute (Code §915) while extensive, lacks any type of enforcement mechanism. This glaring omission leaves victims with no recourse when their rights are violated. The only available remedy is an apology from the state. With the addition of constitutional rights, victims will have the ability to enforce their rights and seek a remedy when those rights are violated. A constitutional amendment with elevate the rights of victims and enshrine them in the highest law of the land assuring victims meaningful participation in the criminal justice system. Victims deserve to have equal footing to defendants in the criminal justice system.

 

Won’t this cost the taxpayers more money?

First of all, cost should not prevent us from doing what is right. Secondly, much of the infrastructure that is needed to carry out Marsy’s Law for Iowa is already in place. Many prosecutors’ offices already have ways to provide victims with notice and information.  Other than notice, there is little or no cost involved in the rights being proposed.

 

Will this weaken the rights of the accused?

No. The rights proposed in Marsy’s Law for Iowa do not impede on defendants’ rights. Those accused of a crime by the state continue to have every constitutional right they have always enjoyed, as they should. They are innocent until proven guilty.

Marsy’s Law for Iowa simply elevates basic victims’ rights to Iowa’s Constitution right alongside defendants’ rights. Defendants continue to have the same rights they have today – including the right to access fair trials and due process.

 

This amendment has been found unconstitutional in other states.

Constitutional rights for victims of crime has never been found unconstitutional on the merits of the law. In Montana and Kentucky, the courts struck down versions of Marsy’s Law, not on the language, but based on the procedure by which they were passed. The procedure to pass a constitutional amendment is explained in each state’s constitution and varies drastically by state. In Iowa, a constitutional amendment has to pass through two consecutive General Assemblies with identical language. Then the proposal is placed on the ballot and Iowans decide. Nothing in the language of Marsy’s Law has ever been found to be unconstitutional by any court.

 

Marsy’s Law is a partisan issue.

False – giving crime victims equal rights to participation in the criminal justice system is a rare political issue that Republicans and Democrats are unified in supporting. In Iowa, legislation was co-sponsored in the House by Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-Marion) and Rep. Marti Anderson (D-Des Moines). Additionally, the Iowa coalition has supporters in the law enforcement community,county attorneys and local leaders from both parties.

 

The bill is too vague/what is the text of the amendment?

The language of the legislation is ultimately in the hands of Iowa’s legislators. You can track the most up to date version of the bill and where it is in the process at www.legis.iowa.gov

 

This amendment will place an undue burden on the already slow court proceedings

The vast majority of the rights outlined in Marsy’s Law for Iowa are already in statute. The criminal case is now, and will continue to be, between two parties only -the State and defendant. The victim will not become a third party to the criminal case.  The prosecutor will continue to make decisions on how and when the case will be resolved. Allowing victims the opportunity to be heard and confer with the prosecutor simply puts the victims’ interests in justice back into the conversation. This law would not diminish the authority of the prosecutors' office to make decisions related to the case. It simply gives the victim of the crime a voice in the process, not a veto.

 

Allowing the victim to refuse a pre-trial deposition or discovery request violates the Confrontation Clause of the 6th Amendment of the US Constitution and the defendant’s right to due process

False. The Supreme Court of the United States has been very clear that there is no constitutional right to pretrial discovery. [Weatherford v. Bursey, 49 U.S. 545 (1977).] Forcing victims of a crime to turn over privileged material – like notes from private therapy sessions and rape crisis counseling – undermines victims’ privacy rights and could prevent victims from seeking help. Under Marsy’s Law for Iowa, the defense remains entitled to everything that is discoverable, including pretrial statements made to the police. The defense would have access to everything that is in the hands of the state, including victim and witness statements, medical reports from the incident and even exculpatory evidence, all of which must be turned over by the state. The defense team can continue to interview witnesses and seek discovery and even interview the victim before trial with his or her consent.  

Regarding confrontation, the US Supreme Court has noted that the 6th Amendment right to confront your accuser applies only as a trial right and is satisfied with the ability to cross-examine at trial. The confrontation clause has also been interpreted to occasionally give way to considerations of the necessities of the case and is not an absolute right to face-to-face meeting [Maryland v. Craig, 497 .S. 836 (1990).] The language to refuse a deposition applies only to the victim and protects the victim from unnecessary, cumbersome and traumatic fishing expeditions from the defense.

Under Marsy’s Law for Iowa, the court becomes a deciding factor on all discovery requests to the victim. A request for discovery can always be brought to the court where the court will consider and weigh the interests of both the defendant and the victim. The court may grant requests made by the defendant for pre-trial discovery or deposition where a compelling need has been shown. It is worth noting here that Iowa is 1 of 5 states in the entire country that even allows the ability to notice a pre-trial criminal deposition of a victim, without motioning the court. Put another way, 45 states in the US currently allow a victim to refuse a pre-trial criminal deposition, and none of those laws have been found to be unconstitutional or affecting the due process rights of the defendant.

 

This amendment will not improve access to services and will affect funding of victim services

Putting basic rights for victims in the constitution has no direct effect on funding victim services, and if any indirect effect exists, it could reasonably only increase services and access to participation in the criminal justice system for victims who previously could not equally access their rights.

 

What is the definition of victim under Marsy’s Law for Iowa?

The language of the amendment is ultimately up to the legislature, but the proposed language currently does not define victim. This is so the definition can be changed more rapidly through statute, if it ever needs to be. Currently Iowa Code §915 defines victim as “a person who has suffered physical, emotional, or financial harm as the result of a public offense or delinquent act, other than a simple misdemeanor, committed in this state. Victim also includes the immediate family members of a victim who died or was rendered incompetent as a result of the offense or who was under eighteen years of age at the time of the offense.” The current proposed language of Marsy’s Law for Iowa would not amend this definition.

 

This is an out-of-state mandate not right for Iowa.

Marsy’s Law for Iowa is part of a national organization called Marsy’s Law for All, however our legislation is written by Iowans for Iowans. Marsy's Law is named after Marsalee (Marsy) Ann Nicholas, a beautiful, vibrant college student who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Only one week after her murder and on the way home from the funeral service, Marsy’s family stopped at a market to pick up a loaf of bread. It was there, in the checkout line, that Marsy’s mother, Marcella, was confronted by her daughter’s murderer. Having received no notification from the judicial system, the family had no idea he had been released on bail mere days after Marsy’s murder. The experience of Marsy’s family is typical of the pain and suffering family members of murder victims so often endure. Dr. Nicholas, Marsy’s brother, created Marsy’s Law for All to honor his sister and is now lending his support to equal crime victims’ rights efforts across the United States.