Sunday, November 05, 2017

Marsy's law

Ohio and California friends, your input is needed!

Ohio has a ballot measure to amend the state constitution with a version of Marsy's law, a victims' rights measure modeled after a California constitutional amendment with the same name and backed by the same people. My basic instinct is to vote against it and I'm not encountering many reasons to go against that instinct.

The main reason my initial reaction is negative is that the current criminal justice system is basically designed to make it easy to railroad black male defendants. Any expansion of victims' rights will mostly just add to the mass incarceration of black men. And, in fact, one of the major impacts of Marsy's law in California has been to increase the amount of time people spend in prison (

There are some more superficial reasons to distrust the law. It is named after an individual and only refers to them by their first name. It was originally backed by a billionaire philanthropist, a class of person I distrust. (How much of a philanthropist can you be if you are still a billionaire?) The ACLU is opposed to it (, and all but one newspaper in California was opposed to the California version (

Still, many of the specifics of the law seem quite reasonable. It says that victims need to be notified about court proceedings and prosecutors must hear victims' inputs before offering plea deals (

It is also not clear to me how much to look at this through racial justice lens and how much to look at it through a gender violence lens. One of the measures in the law would make it harder for defense council to interview or depose victims, which could make it harder for defense attorneys to slut-shame victims of sex crimes. The law itself was originally developed in response to a case where a woman was stalked and killed by an ex-boyfriend. Changes that increase legal protection for women dealing with violent men are certainly needed. Women should know when their stalkers are up for parole.

In thinking about a law like this, you have to take into account the fact that it will be implemented in a biased way. It probably will make things more fair in cases of white-on-white crime. But as soon as you have a black defendant, everything is going to get worse. Anything that increases jail time goes against a lot of the other activism I am engaged in.

Anyone have any opinions? Come on, you are the internet. I know you have opinions.