HARRISBURG - The Pennsylvania Senate today passed legislation, known as Marsy’s Law, to amend the state constitution to include language related to the rights of alleged victims of crime. The Senate vote follows passage by the House earlier in the legislative session, so, because the bill has passed in two consecutive sessions, the proposed amendment to the constitution will presumably be considered by voters in the general election in November.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania opposes Marsy’s Law and issued a statement after the Senate vote. The following can be attributed to Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania:

“Marsy’s Law will fundamentally alter our criminal legal system and threaten long-established constitutional protections for the accused, including the presumption of innocence, the right to a speedy trial, the right to confront one’s accuser, and the right to effective assistance of counsel, among others.

“Marsy’s Law is an unfunded mandate in search of a problem. Marsy’s Law doesn’t bring any additional resources for victims’ services nor does it impose any penalties for state or county offices that fail to enforce those rights. There is nothing in Marsy’s Law that cannot be achieved via statute. Our focus should be on the existing statute, rather than a costly amendment that will do little more than burden taxpayers and clog the criminal legal system with constitutionally mandated requirements that victims are already entitled to by law.”

The following can be attributed to Elizabeth Randol, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania:

“Over two legislative sessions, the General Assembly failed to hold a single hearing to consider the inherently problematic provisions of Marsy’s Law. Instead, legislators have abdicated their responsibility and left due diligence up to the voters as they decide whether to amend Pennsylvania’s constitution with vague, formulaic language that will have far-reaching ramifications for our criminal legal system.

“The notion that victims’ rights can be equated to the rights of the accused is a fallacy. It ignores the very different purposes these two sets of rights serve. Defendants’ rights are constitutionally guaranteed because they are protections from the power of the state. They serve as essential checks against government abuse, preventing the government from arresting and imprisoning anyone, for any reason, at any time.

“In contrast, victims’ rights are rights against another individual, not the state. Victims’ rights serve a completely different purpose aimed at ensuring recovery for individuals, not protection against state power. The provisions in Marsy’s Law, such as the right to restitution, to reasonable protection, and to refuse depositions and discovery requests, are all enforced against the defendant. Such rights do nothing to check the power of the government. As a result, many of the provisions in Marsy’s Law could actually strengthen the state’s hand against a defendant, undermining the bedrock legal principles of due process and the presumption of innocence.”