On June 5, South Dakota voters will have the opportunity to vote on an amendment to our Constitution, making changes to “Marsy’s Law” which was adopted in 2016.
Also known as the California Victims’ Bill of Rights, the intent of Marsy’s Law was to establish constitutional protections for crime victims. After the measure was approved, there were questions about how the law was to be applied. While supporters stated that the law was to protect the victims of violent crimes, law enforcement and media were concerned that the definition of “victim” was much broader. The language currently in the constitution defines victim as “a person who suffers direct or threatened physical, psychological, or financial harm.” This could mean that everyone who shops at the same store where a shoplifting has occurred is a “victim” because they suffer financial harm by paying higher prices to offset shoplifting losses.
Amendment Y on the June ballot narrows the definition of victim to mean a person against whom a crime is committed. This is designed to preserve the intent of the law without extending rights to innocent bystanders. At the same time, the proposal on the June 5 ballot clarifies that if the victim is killed, incapacitated, or a minor, then the victim rights extend to that person’s spouse or other immediate family members or guardians.
The second significant change being proposed is to clarify that the rights contained in Marsy’s Law are applied at the request of the victim. This gives victims the right and responsibility to opt-in to receive the benefits of the rights in Marsy’s Law. A third change clarifies that law enforcement is allowed to share information with the public if needed to help solve crimes.
Finally, the proposal provides that a person may not file a lawsuit for money damages against the State, local governments, or their officers and employees if the person’s rights under Marsy’s Law are violated. Removing the threat of civil damages against state and political subdivisions is to address concerns about law enforcement who refused to share crime information with victim’s families or the press.
The goal of Marsy’s Law is to guarantee that victims of crime are informed about their rights and the services available to them, and that they get notification of court proceedings and updates on developments in their criminal cases. All of these goals are preserved by the proposed amendment.
The national Marsy’s Law group has issued press releases and an advertising campaign supporting Measure Y. According to the Marsy’s Law for All group, “Measure Y seeks to further empower victims of crime and give needed tools to law enforcement in solving crimes.”
The measure is being supported by the Sheriff’s Association, States Attorney’s Association, Network Against Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse, SD Association of County Commissioners, and the SD Newspaper Association. The ballot explanation on Measure Y contains a statement from an opponent who believes that the entire measure should be repealed, not amended.
You can read the full text of the proposed amendment, as well as the Attorney General’s explanation, on the Secretary of State’s website: sdsos.gov.