State Question Will Ask Voters to Weigh in on Victims’ Rights

By Rep. Mike Sanders

Gov. Mary Fallin earlier this summer signed an election proclamation placing State Question 794 on the ballot for the general election Nov. 6.

If approved, the question, also known as Marsy’s Law or the Victim’s Bill of Rights, would amend the Oklahoma Constitution to provide certain rights for crime victims, such as expanding the court proceedings at which victims have the right to be heard and being notified of the defendant's release or escape from custody.

The question is the result of Senate Joint Resolution 46, which Oklahoma lawmakers passed during the 2017 regular legislative session.

The measure is named after Marsalee (Marsy) Nichols, a University of California Santa Barbara student who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. A week after she was killed, the victim’s family ran into her accused murder not knowing he had been released on bail because California’s courts at that time had not obligation to keep them informed. Marsy’s brother, Dr. Henry T. Nicholas became the key backer of the law, which is now being pursued in states nationwide.

In addition to the rights detailed above, the Oklahoma ballot measure states that it also would allow crime victims to be protected in a manner equal to the defendant's rights, including:

  • adding a right to reasonable protection;
  • adding a right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay;
  • adding a right to talk with the prosecutor; and
  • allowing victims to refuse interview requests from the defendant's attorney without a subpoena.

The language in the ballot title that voters will see explains: “The Oklahoma Constitution currently grants victims' rights to crime victims and their family members. This measure would instead grant these rights to crime victims and those directly harmed by the crime. Victims would no longer have a constitutional right to know the defendant's location following arrest, during prosecution, and while sentenced to confinement or probation, but would have the right to be notified of the defendant's release or escape from custody.

“Under this measure, victims would have these rights in both adult and juvenile proceedings. Victims would be able to assert these rights in court, and the court would be required to act promptly.”

Oklahoma voters in November will get to vote yes or no on this proposed question.

Meanwhile, if I can do anything to help you, I can be contacted at Mike.Sanders@OKHouse.Gov or (405) 557-7407.

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