Marsy’s Law, Question 1, sounds good but has major problems

In 1983, California college student Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas was killed by ex-boyfriend Kerry Conley. Upset about Conley’s release on bail without the family being notified, Marsy’s brother, tech billionaire Henry T. Nicholas III, funded a campaign to replace existing victim rights laws with a vaguely worded “victims’ bill of rights” tacked on to each state’s constitution. It is on the ballot in Nevada as Question 1.

The Marsy’s Law campaign has succeeded in several states due to the absence of organized opposition. But adoption has invariably been followed by buyer’s remorse thanks to a number of unintended consequences. It imposes high costs and impossible burdens on police and prosecutors, especially in rural counties. This has resulted from a greatly broadened definition of “victim” — to include extended family members, guardians and even some acquaintances — and from the notifications being required from the point of arrest, not conviction.

Most disturbing is Marsy’s Law’s disregard for the presumption of innocence, something that might be of concern to Mr. Nicholas. In August he was arrested in Las Vegas for possession of heroin, cocaine, meth and ecstasy. Under Nevada’s existing laws, Mr. Nicholas is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Those laws should not be changed. Vote “no” on 1.

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