In 1981, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the first National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. In issuing his proclamation, President Reagan said, “[w]e need a renewed emphasis on, and an enhanced sensitivity to, the rights of victims. These rights should be a central concern of those who participate in the criminal justice system, and it is time all of us paid greater heed to the plight of victims.”
Thirty-nine years later, states and the federal government have made considerable strides in better respecting the rights of crime victims. The Victims of Crime Act of 1984 established the Crime Victim's Fund and 35 States have secured Constitutional rights for victims of crime. Kentucky is not one of those states, and unfortunately, there has been a tremendous amount of misinformation floating around about an attempt this year to secure those rights for Kentucky victims.
Opponents of securing constitutional rights for crime victims rest the majority of their arguments on two flawed premises.
First, either without knowledge of the actual text of Amendment 1, or deliberately ignoring it, opponents assert that Marsy’s Law will upend the criminal justice system to the detriment of criminal defendants. This had led some to suggest that Marsy’s Law will undermine the foundational presumption of innocence in a criminal trial. While there is of course nothing about acknowledging someone as a victim that makes a particular defendant any more or less guilty of a particular crime, perhaps learning that Amendment 1 contains the following phrase; “Nothing in this section shall afford the victim party status, or be construed as altering the presumption of innocence in the criminal justice system,” could ease their concerns.
Second, some would have conservative Kentuckians believe that Marsy’s Law is a Leftist conspiracy, dreamt up in liberal California, meant to undermine your right to protect your home and family. This assertion is nearly as egregious as those that ignore the text of the law because it ignores the entire history of the Victims’ Rights Movement in the United States.
Most scholars on the subject will place the official launch of the Victims’ Rights Movement in 1975, when lawyer Frank Carrington wrote “The Victims,” a conservative manifesto on the injustices faced by victims in the criminal justice system and an indictment of the liberal jurisprudence of the Warren Court. Carrington would later be appointed to President Reagan’s Task Force on the Victims of Crime 1982 and publish “Crime and Justice: A Conservative Strategy” through the Heritage Foundation in 1983. While the movement quickly became bipartisan, its conservative origins would shape both its early victories and its enduring beliefs.
That same conservatism that believes in effective policing, order, and the rights of crime victims also recognizes the most foundational form of protection. The right to bear arms. The right to possess and if need be, use, a firearm to protect oneself and family from deadly violence that might come their way. These beliefs come from the same place. While the first and most important affirmative duty of government is the protection of public safety, I ultimately have the right to protect myself and my loved ones, hopefully reducing victimization.
Marsy’s Law has absolutely no effect on “stand your ground” laws or Castle Doctrine legislation. In fact, in a scenario where a homeowner is forced to defend himself against an intruder, Marsy’s Law will provide constitutionally protected rights for the homeowner as a victim.
Once you pull away all the myths and the mischaracterizations, Amendment 1 can be appreciated for the commonsense reform that it is. It secures for victims of crime the rights to be present and heard, informed and consulted, and respected by a system that does so too infrequently now.
JOSHUA H. CRAWFORD is interim executive director of the Pegasus Institute.
PERSPECTIVE writers for this forum do not always express the opinions of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.