by Steve Vickman, Executive Director, HELP of Door County
Survivors of domestic abuse often feel powerless. Currently there is a bipartisan proposal in the Wisconsin State Legislature which addresses victim’s rights. It’s called Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin, and allows our state to empower victims and provide more tools to those who work with victims of domestic abuse.
While a senior at University of California – Santa Barbara, Marsy Nicholas was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend. Only a week after her murder, her brother and mother walked into a grocery store after visiting Marsy’s grave and were confronted by the accused murderer. They had no idea he’d been released on bail.
This story is typical of the pain and suffering family members endure. Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin is about giving victims constitutional standing equal to that of the accused and convicted criminals.
Wisconsin has a long history of standing up for victims. We have strong victims’ rights laws – Wisconsin was the first to pass a Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights, and in 1993 voters passed a constitutional amendment to make sure there were victims’ rights in the State Constitution.
And yet, victims often feel they don’t have a strong enough voice in the court process. After being brutally attacked, too many victims find that those who kept them in a cycle of violence have a stronger voice and a host of clearly understood rights. In many cases, victims have rights that end up being trumped by the rights of the accused, because the victim’s right either isn’t in the Constitution or isn’t as strongly worded as it could be.
Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin’s proposal would address this in two ways – by making some rights that are currently under state statute fully constitutional rights and by strengthening other rights that are already in the constitution. An example of a right that is the law under state statute but needs to be elevated to the constitution is a victim’s simple right to be notified of their rights in the first place. We are all familiar with the accused being read their Miranda rights – what about a victim’s rights?
There are also important rights that are currently in the constitution, but need strengthening. For example, the right to be heard throughout the legal process, including release, plea, sentencing, disposition, parole, revocation, expungement or pardon – as opposed to just disposition.
This legislation has the support of a large growing coalition. Forty-two Republicans and Democrats in the State Legislature are signed onto the bill, and numerous victims’ rights organizations, law enforcement groups, attorneys and others – including survivors of abuse in communities across Wisconsin – are supporting this initiative.
Domestic violence advocates often hear from victims that they simply want rights equal to those of the accused – nothing more, nothing less. In order to become law, this proposal will need to be passed by the Legislature twice, then by voters on the ballot. We hope residents of the Door County peninsula will support Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin.
This article is brought to you in part by the Door County Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Teams and the Door County Elder and Adult-at-Risk Interdisciplinary Team.