The 1983 murder of a young woman in California was the foundation of a national campaign to guarantee the rights of crime victims when it comes to prosecution of the alleged perpetrators.
This year, Georgia voters will decide whether to make those victim’s rights, which are already state law, part of the state constitution.
Known as Marsy’s Law, it is No. 4 of five constitutional amendment questions that voters will see on their ballots for the Nov. 6 election.
“It’s really not going to change a lot of what Georgia victim’s advocates have been doing for years,” said Pete Skandalakis, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia and former district attorney for the Coweta Circuit.
“It pulls the Georgia statutes that we’ve had since the early ‘90s into the constitution,” Skandalakis said. “Georgia was kind of a pioneer in victim’s rights."
Those rights include the right to be notified of court hearings and other actions in a legal case, and to be heard during court proceedings.
Though these victim’s rights are already in state law, “statutes can always be repealed or modified,” Skandalakis said. Once enshrined in the constitution, they can only be changed by another constitutional amendment.
Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend in California in 1983. Her brother, Henry Nicholas, is behind the push to have Marsy’s Laws in every state.
Nicholas told The Los Angeles Times that after his sister’s funeral, he and his mother stopped by a store to get a loaf of bread. “And there, in the checkout line was my sister’s murderer, glowering at her,” Nicholas said.
The family had not been informed that his sister’s alleged killer was out on bond.
In 2008, Marsy’s Law became part of California’s constitution. In 2009, Nicholas founded Marsy’s Law for All, which seeks to have the rights in all state constitutions and, eventually, the U.S. Constitution.
Work on the Georgia version took nearly two years, said Skandalakis. The state’s district attorneys are supporting the amendment, though they were originally opposed, he said.
“We just had to modify some things to make sure it complied with what state statutes we already had,” he said.
It doesn’t take any constitutional rights away from those accused of crimes, he said. “I think that is important to know."
Skandalakis, as well as House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, D-Luthersville, are featured in YouTube videos speaking in favor of the amendment.
“Crime victims need constitutional rights because they are impacted more than anyone else when it comes to the commission of a crime,” Trammell, an attorney, says in the video. “This is a bipartisan issue that Republicans and Democrats can agree on.”
Other amendments on the ballot are:
• Amendment 1 funds the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust with
existing sales taxes on outdoor equipment sold at sporting goods
stores. It wouldn’t increase or create new taxes but would set aside
up to 80 percent of state sales taxes collected at sporting goods
• Amendment 2 asks Georgians if they want to create a statewide
business court to be used under certain circumstances. The amendment,
if passed, would allow the governor to appoint judges for the business
court, and those judges would not have to stand for election,
according to attorney David Hudson, counsel for the Georgia Press
• Amendment 3 deals with taxation of timber property in tracts of
200 acres or larger. If approved, it would reduce the property taxes
for timber tracts placed under conservation use, but the timber on the
land would continue to be taxed without regard to the conservation
• Amendment 5 makes changes to how counties that have independent
school districts can call for a referendum on a special purpose sales
tax for education.
There are also two referendum questions on the ballot:
• Referendum A deals with a proposed homestead exemption for the city
of Atlanta, though the ballot language does not specifically reference
• Referendum B clarifies tax exemptions for certain homes for the
mentally disabled. Nonprofit homes for the mentally disabled are
already tax-exempt; the proposal would clarify that the exemption
applies even when financing for construction or renovation of the
homes is provided by a business corporation or other for-profit