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Pennsylvania judge blocks tallying votes on crime victims rights amendment
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Pennsylvania judge blocks tallying votes on crime victims rights amendment

A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge on Wednesday enjoined the tallying of votes on Marsy’s Law, a proposed state constitutional amendment for crime victims’ rights.

The lawsuit was filed by the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, it alleges that the ballot question violates Article XI, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, does not contain the actual text of the amendment, and does not fairly and accurately inform the electorate of the issues and impact of the amendment.

The proposed amendment creates new rights for victims of crimes and those directly impacted by those crimes. The ballot question states:

Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to grant certain rights to crime victims, including to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity; considering their safety in bail proceedings; timely notice and opportunity to take part in public proceedings; reasonable protection from the accused; right to refuse discovery requests made by the accused; restitution and return of property; proceedings free from delay; and to be informed of these rights, so they can enforce them?

Article XI, Section 1, of the Pennsylvania Constitution requires that when two or more amendments are submitted for a vote, they must be voted on separately. Because Marsy’s Law affects multiple constitutional rights, such as “the right to a speedy trial, the right to confront witnesses, the right against double jeopardy,” and more, and does not allow the electorate the opportunity to vote separately on each proposed right, the court ruled that it violates this provision.

The court noted that Article XI has been also interpreted to require the entire text of the proposed amendment to be published on the ballot. Additionally, because the ballot question does not enumerate all of the possible constitutional changes, it does not fairly warn the voters of the amendment’s impact.

Ronald Greenblatt, a criminal defense attorney with 30 years of experience, testified that the new amendment would “essentially eviscerate his ability to effectively represent his clients.” It would prevent him from obtaining evidence that can be “critical to building a defense and proving innocence.” The new requirements would clog up the courts, delaying trials “to the detriment of those accused of crimes and victims alike.”

The court stated that the accused’s presumption of innocence is fundamental and that it is clear that this amendment will immediately and irreparably impact those accused of crimes by putting criminal proceedings into doubt.

This amendment would also harm those inmates who have successfully completed the term of their sentences because victims would now have to be found and provided an opportunity to be heard in “any proceeding where the right of the victim is implicated.”

Finally, the court stated that this injunction maintains the status quo and does not take away any of the rights currently afforded to victims. If the amendment is later deemed constitutional, the votes will be counted.

Reggie Shuford, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, stated, “We all recognize the harm that is done when someone is victimized, but this ballot question undermines fundamental rights that date back to the founding of our country.”

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office plans to appeal this decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.