All Sections

Home | State Government

Marsy’s Law goes down in flames

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 26. 2018 9:19PM
Hailey Spencer, 9, of Concord holds a sign in support of Marcy’s Law for law makers at the State House in Concord on Thursday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

The 284-51 House vote to kill a proposal known as Marsy’s Law was followed by a procedural vote to prevent the matter from coming up again this session.

Supporters of the law would have needed a three-fifths majority vote in favor, but there was a bipartisan consensus in the other direction.

Lyn Schollett, executive director of the N.H. Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said the effort would resume with a bill in 2019.

“We are not done. We are not defeated,” she said. “We look forward to continuing this vital work to change victim’s rights and experiences and we will not stop fighting for enforceable constitutional rights.”

The House and Senate were clearly at odds over the constitutional amendment.

It passed the Senate on March 22 in a 20-3 vote, well within the necessary margin to go to voters, but got a negative recommendation on April 10 after a hearing before the combined House Judiciary and Criminal Justice committees, which voted 24-11 against the measure.

In emotionally charged hearings before both House and Senate committees, crime victims or their surviving family members described their treatment by the criminal justice system as evidence of the need for constitutional protections.

Opponents of the measure, including a past state Supreme Court justice and UNH law professor, argued for much simpler wording, and warned against granting victim status to anyone prior to conviction of a defendant.

Gov. Chris Sununu has been a supporter of the measure, leading the roll-out at a State House news conference in January and later testifying before House and Senate committees, with crime victims at his side.

“Today’s vote saddens me,” he said after the House vote. “I’ve spent too much time with victims and their families to know that New Hampshire has missed an incredible opportunity to do what’s right.”

Sununu said he was convinced by the stories of crime victims that “our current criminal justice process doesn’t afford equal or even consistent treatment of victims.”

While some representatives argued that voters should have the final say on the matter, opponents of the bill pointed to the estimated $2 million that would be spent by a national organization promoting the effort.

Marsy’s Law would create a constitutional right for victims of crime to receive reasonable and timely notification of all proceedings in their case, to be heard at those proceedings, to be informed of the release or escape of the accused or convicted, and to be eligible for restitution.

The amendment also establishes privacy rights for victims, and the right to be reasonably protected from harm.

Unintended consequences

But opponents said some provisions could create unintended consequences, including hampering fair trials for those accused of crimes, increasing costs for local prosecutors and limiting information available to the public about crimes.

Retired Justice Carol Ann Conboy became one of the most vocal opponents of the amendment, along with UNH law professor Albert Scherr.

Had the bill cleared the House with the needed three-fifths majority, it would have gone to the voters on the November ballot, where a two-thirds majority would be needed to amend the constitution. Opponents pointed out that the state already has a 22-point Victim Bill of Rights in statute, with guarantees that range from the right to be notified of all court activity to the right to testify at sentencing or parole hearings.

Marsy’s Law is named after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, a University of California student stalked and killed by her boyfriend in 1983. Her brother, Henry Nicholas, co-founder and former CEO of Broadcom Corp., began the push for Marsy’s Law as a constitutional amendment, investing millions from his personal fortune in the effort.

Marsy’s Law For All, the national organization behind the effort, has already spent heavily on the New Hampshire campaign, and was expected to invest even more in advertising and organizing had the measure cleared both House and Senate.

California was the first state to adopt the amendment in 2008. In the ensuing years, several other states followed suit.

Crime, law and justice Politics Courts Concord News Alert

More Headlines

Thank you, Sununu