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Proposed Constitutional Amendment:
Crime Victim Rights (Marsy's Law)


Ballot Question

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?

 

Plain English Statement of the Office of Attorney General

The proposed amendment, if approved by the electorate, will add a new section to Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution.  That amendment will provide victims of crimes with certain, new constitutional rights that must be protected in the same way as the rights afforded to individuals accused of committing a crime. 

The proposed amendment defines "victim" as both a person against whom the criminal act was committed and any person who was directly harmed by it.  The accused or any person a court decides is not acting in the best interest of a victim cannot be a victim. 

Generally, the proposed amendment would grant victims the constitutional right to receive notice and be present and speak at public proceedings involving the alleged criminal conduct.  It would also grant victims the constitutional right to receive notice of any escape or release of the accused and the right to have their safety and the safety of their family considered in setting the amount of bail and other release conditions.  It would also create several other new constitutional rights, such as the right to timely restitution and return of property, the right to refuse to answer questions asked by the accused, and the right to speak with a government attorney. 

Specifically, the proposed amendment would establish the following new rights for victims:

  • To be treated with fairness and respect for the victim's safety, dignity and privacy
  • To have the safety of the victim and the victim's family considered in fixing the amount of bail and release conditions for the accused
  • To reasonable and timely notice of and to be present at all public proceedings involving the criminal or delinquent conduct
  • To be notified of any pretrial disposition of the case
  • With the exception of grand jury proceedings, to be heard in any proceeding where a right of the victim is implicated, including, but not limited to, release, plea, sentencing, disposition, parole and pardon
  • To be notified of all parole procedures, to participate in the parole process, to provide information to be considered before the parole of the offender, and to be notified of the parole of the offender
  • To reasonable protection from the accused or any person acting on behalf of the accused
  • To reasonable notice of any release or escape of the accused
  • To refuse an interview, deposition or other discovery request made by the accused or any person acting on behalf of the accused
  • Full and timely restitution from the person or entity convicted for the unlawful conduct
  • Full and timely restitution as determined by the court in a juvenile delinquency proceeding
  • To the prompt return of property when no longer needed as evidence
  • To proceedings free from unreasonable delay and a prompt and final conclusion of the case and any related postconviction proceedings
  • To confer with the attorney for the government
  • To be informed of all rights enumerated in this section

The proposed amendment would allow a victim or prosecutor to ask a court to enforce these constitutional rights but would not allow a victim to become a legal party to the criminal proceeding or sue the Commonwealth or any political subdivision, such as a county or municipality, for monetary damages. 

Once added to the Pennsylvania Constitution, these specific rights of victims cannot be eliminated, except by a judicial decision finding all or part of the amendment unconstitutional or the approval of a subsequent constitutional amendment.  If approved, the General Assembly may pass a law to implement these new, constitutional rights, but it may not pass a law eliminating them.  If approved, State and local governments will need to create new procedures to ensure that victims receive the rights provided for by the amendment.

 

Joint Resolution NO. 2019-1

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, providing for rights of victims of crime.

The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania hereby resolves as follows:

Section 1.  The following amendment to the Constitution of Pennsylvania is proposed in accordance with Article XI:

That Article I be amended by adding a section to read:

§ 9.1.  Rights of victims of crime.

(a)  To secure for victims justice and due process throughout the criminal and juvenile justice systems, a victim shall have the following rights, as further provided and as defined by the General Assembly, which shall be protected in a manner no less vigorous than the rights afforded to the accused: to be treated with fairness and respect for the victim's safety, dignity and privacy; to have the safety of the victim and the victim's family considered in fixing the amount of bail and release conditions for the accused; to reasonable and timely notice of and to be present at all public proceedings involving the criminal or delinquent conduct; to be notified of any pretrial disposition of the case; with the exception of grand jury proceedings, to be heard in any proceeding where a right of the victim is implicated, including, but not limited to, release, plea, sentencing, disposition, parole and pardon; to be notified of all parole procedures, to participate in the parole process, to provide information to be considered before the parole of the offender, and to be notified of the parole of the offender; to reasonable protection from the accused or any person acting on behalf of the accused; to reasonable notice of any release or escape of the accused; to refuse an interview, deposition or other discovery request made by the accused or any person acting on behalf of the accused; full and timely restitution from the person or entity convicted for the unlawful conduct; full and timely restitution as determined by the court in a juvenile delinquency proceeding; to the prompt return of property when no longer needed as evidence; to proceedings free from unreasonable delay and a prompt and final conclusion of the case and any related postconviction proceedings; to confer with the attorney for the government; and to be informed of all rights enumerated in this section.

 

(b)  The victim or the attorney for the government upon request of the victim may assert in any trial or appellate court, or before any other authority, with jurisdiction over the case, and have enforced, the rights enumerated in this section and any other right afforded to the victim by law. This section does not grant the victim party status or create any cause of action for compensation or damages against the Commonwealth or any political subdivision, nor any officer, employee or agent of the Commonwealth or any political subdivision, or any officer or employee of the court.

(c)  As used in this section and as further defined by the General Assembly, the term "victim" includes any person against whom the criminal offense or delinquent act is committed or who is directly harmed by the commission of the offense or act. The term "victim" does not include the accused or a person whom the court finds would not act in the best interests of a deceased, incompetent, minor or incapacitated victim.

Section 2.  (a)  Upon the first passage by the General Assembly of this proposed constitutional amendment, the Secretary of the Commonwealth shall proceed immediately to comply with the advertising requirements of section 1 of Article XI of the Constitution of Pennsylvania and shall transmit the required advertisements to two newspapers in every county in which such newspapers are published in sufficient time after passage of this proposed constitutional amendment.

(b)  Upon the second passage by the General Assembly of this proposed constitutional amendment, the Secretary of the Commonwealth shall proceed immediately to comply with the advertising requirements of section 1 of Article XI of the Constitution of Pennsylvania and shall transmit the required advertisements to two newspapers in every county in which such newspapers are published in sufficient time after passage of this proposed constitutional amendment. The Secretary of the Commonwealth shall submit this proposed constitutional amendment to the qualified electors of this Commonwealth at the first primary, general or municipal election which meets the requirements of and is in conformance with section 1 of Article XI of the Constitution of Pennsylvania and which occurs at least three months after the proposed constitutional amendment is passed by the General Assembly.