By Margo Kirchner
Oral argument on WJI’s challenge to the victims’ rights constitutional amendment known commonly as “Marsy’s Law” is set for 9 a.m. Thursday.
The hearing will be conducted virtually, and the public may watch on YouTube using this link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5SDXzrIBTLO0a0I8iz2P9w.
Dane County Circuit Judge Frank D. Remington presides over the case. WJI and four individuals allege that the April 2020 ballot question asking voters to approve the amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution was invalid.
Attorney Dennis Grzezinski will represent WJI and the other plaintiffs at the hearing.
As reported previously, the plaintiffs contend that the ballot question failed to fully and fairly inform the public of the essential components of the amendment, misstated the contents and impact of the proposed amendment, and improperly encompassed more than one subject.
Although under Wisconsin Supreme Court cases the Legislature has discretion in formulating a ballot question, the question must nevertheless “reasonably, intelligently, and fairly comprise or have reference to every essential of the amendment” so the public “may be fully informed on the subject” on which they are voting.
The plaintiffs contend that, among other things, the amendment struck the state constitution’s only reference to a “fair trial for the defendant,” eliminated a defendant’s right to exclude an alleged victim from the courtroom if necessary for a fair trial, and altered defendants’ rights set forth in other sections of the Wisconsin Constitution or state statutes. Yet the ballot question failed to tell voters of such changes.
The plaintiffs argue that the ballot question told voters the amendment would protect a victim’s and an accused’s rights “with equal force,” but the amendment’s actual text permits giving a victim greater protection of rights than an accused receives.
Also, the plaintiffs say, the amendment contains more than one subject, requiring separate ballot questions. The Wisconsin Constitution mandates that “if more than one amendment be submitted, they shall be submitted in such manner that the people may vote for or against such amendments separately.” The plaintiffs charge that the amendment created a new category of victims, including roommates or live-in caregivers of deceased individuals, but the ballot question failed to reference that change.
The plaintiffs' brief in support of striking th eamendments is here; the state's brief in opposition is here; and the plaintiffs' reply is here.
Interested in supporting WJI in this challenge? Please DONATE by clicking HERE.
By Gretchen Schuldt
State Sen. Kathleen Bernier (R-Chippewa Falls) is a sponsor of the ill-conceived Marsy's Law amendment to the State Constitution that would give victims the right to attend every court proceeding in their case.
Allowing anyone interested to attend court proceedings is a good thing. Elevating such access to the level of a constitutional right can create logistical nightmares for court officials and create long delays in cases. (Visit our Marsy's Flaws page to learn more.)
WJI's questions for Bernier are about former Eau Claire County Treasurer Larry Lokken and his assistant, Kay Onarheim, who embezzled more than $600,000 from the county. The theft enraged county residents. Bernier represents part of the county.
Marsy's Law defines "victim" generally as "a person against whom an act is committed that would constitute a crime if committed by a competent adult."
Stealing public funds is clearly stealing from the folks who pay into the treasury.
WJI wrote to Bernier to ask a few questions about how, under Marsy's Law, Eau Claire County Circuit Court officials would manage likely demand from people to attend Lokken/Onarheimcourt proceedings.
A few details about Eau Claire County: its population is 104,534, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and most of those people pay some sort of tax or fee to the county, which also gets state and federal money.
Our questions for Bernier:
If Marsy’s Law was in effect at the time the two were arrested, would each and every victim have a right to attend all court proceedings? How do you propose requests be coordinated?
Let’s say only 100 county residents requested to attend the court proceedings. Who would be responsible for finding dates when 100 people could be in court at the same time? Would the cost of that coordination fall to the District Attorney’s Office and the state? Or would the county be asked to pick up the tab?
Would the right of victims under Marsy’s Law to attend proceedings override the defendants’ right to speedy trials?
WJI will report on any response Bernier provides. We're still waiting on State Attorney General Josh Kaul and State Sen. Van H. Wanggaard (R-Racine).
For a larger version of the graphic, click on the picture. For a PDF version, click here. The Senate sponsors are here.
By Gretchen Schuldt
These Wisconsin state representatives – 37 Republicans and four Democrats – teamed up to sponsor an amendment to the State Constitution that would seriously damage the concept of "presumed innocent."
The amendment will be before voters on April 7 and, if approved, will become part of the State Constitution. The referendum question the State Legislature OK'd and voters will get on their ballots actually says nothing about the contents of the proposed amendment or what its impacts would be.
You can learn about those things, though, by checking out WJI's "Marsy's Flaws" page. There are also links to stories about the problems arising in states that approved their own Marsy's Laws and must reckon with the consequences.
Marsy's Law is the brain child of billionaire felon Henry Nicholas III, who earlier this month bought his way out of any real consequences for allegedly trafficking heroin, cocaine, meth and ecstasy.
By Gretchen Schuldt
State Attorney General Josh Kaul supports the proposed Marsy's Law amendment to the State Constitution even though it clearly would violate the U.S. Constitution Kaul swore to uphold.
The attorney general has been pretty quiet about the proposed amendment. His scant comment includes this unenlightening sentence. "We must do all we can to protect victims of crime."
He's not said anything about the ballot question that tells voters virtually nothing about what they actually are approving or disapproving, nor has he spoken about the very unsavory character Henry T. Nicholas III, who is bankrolling the Marsy's Law countrywide steamroller and who used his wealth to buy his way out of some real legal trouble.
So we wrote to Kaul to get some answers to a few questions about Marsy's Law. They are not all the questions we have about the law, but they are some important ones. We will be sending questions to other supporters as well.
Marsy’s Law would grant a victim the right “to refuse an interview, deposition, or other discovery request made by the accused or any person acting on behalf of the accused.” How does this proposed right reconcile with the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution? Those amendments guarantee defendants a right to exculpatory information and evidence, at a minimum. Do you support allowing victims to withhold this information from defendants?
Marsy’s Law provides several new rights to victims. Among them is a right, “upon request, to attend all proceedings involving the case.”
Some crimes have multiple victims. Let’s say a crime involves 10 victims. What happens if just a few of those people ask to attend all the proceedings? What happens if they have different work or school or child-care schedules and they can’t all make proceedings at the same time?
Another proposed right is to be provided “with timely notice about all rights under this section and all other rights, privileges, or protections of the victim provided by law, including how such rights, privileges, or protections are enforced.” Who makes sure that victims get this notice? The police? The district attorney? When would it happen? Again, many crimes have multiple victims. In addition, the crime may be relatively minor and the scene chaotic (an example may be indecent exposure on a crowded city bus). How could anyone ensure that all victims are provided notice? What would happen if all victims are NOT notified?
Stay tuned. When we get Kaul's answers, so will you.
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