Among laws taking effect around the country with the start of the New Year, one has direct ties to a UCSB student gunned down in the prime of life.
Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, a resident of Malibu’s Point Dume was an award-winning equestrian and model in her last quarter of school when a neighbor and former boyfriend stalked and fatally shot her in 1983.
A week later after visiting her daughter’s grave, Marsy’s mother, Marcella Leach, walked into a grocery store and was confronted by the accused killer, Kerry Michael Conley.
She had no idea the man was out on bail.
The encounter only heightened the mother’s grief.
Mr. Conley would eventually be convicted of second-degree murder, a jury in Santa Monica finding that he intended to kill Ms. Nicholas but didn’t plan the crime. He was sentenced to 17 years to life in 1985.
Marsy’s brother, Henry T. Nicholas, the billionaire co-founder of Broadcom Corp., was spurred to action, donating millions to political and victims’ rights groups aimed at punishing offenders.
“I have made my commitment to do whatever I can to keep murderers and dangerous felons behind bars, whether they be the killer of my sister or anyone else,” Mr. Nicholas said in a statement at the time of the killer’s parole hearing in 2007.
He died in prison that same year.
The following year, California voters passed Marsy’s Law, a state constitutional amendment significantly expanding the rights of crime victims in California to include:
• Fair and respectful treatment for privacy and dignity, and to be free from intimidation, harassment, and abuse, throughout the criminal or juvenile justice process;
• To be reasonably protected from the defendant and persons acting on behalf of the defendant;
• To have the safety of the victim and the victim’s family considered in fixing the amount of bail and release conditions for the defendant;
• To prevent the disclosure of confidential information or records to the defendant which could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family.
The same year California voters spoke, Marsy’s father, Robert Leach, died. Her mother died in 2015.
On Tuesday, Georgia became the latest state to institute such a law, and a similar amendment is set to take effect later in the week in Florida. Six more states are set to launch a version of the law this year.
Georgia and Florida voters passed versions in November, giving victims and families notice of major developments as their cases move through court.
Georgia’s version passed with 81 percent of the vote, Florida’s with 61.
WJXT in Jacksonville, Fla., reported that before the state’s measure takes effect on Tuesday, the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee will hold a workshop with public defenders, prosecuting attorneys and the Florida Sheriff’s Association.
It’s been less smooth sailing in Kentucky, where the state Supreme Court is deciding whether to allow a Marsy’s Law victims bill of rights to become part of the state constitution.
While voters approved the amendment in November, reports the Messenger-Inquirer, in Owensboro, Ky., the results were not certified.
The Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers sued over the language that appeared on the ballot, saying it was insufficient. A circuit court judge agreed, saying the ballot language did not fully explain what rights would be granted victims of crimes.
Here’s the language, straight from the ballot: “Are you in favor of providing constitutional rights to victims of crime, including the right to be treated fairly, with dignity and respect, and the right to be informed and to have a voice in the process.”
“Are you in favor of providing constitutional rights to victims of crime, including … the right to be informed and to have a voice in the process.”
Kentucy’s Marsy’s Law ballot measure
The Kentucky Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, bypassing the Court of Appeals.
In their brief, according to the Messenger-Inquirer, the Marsy’s Law attorneys argued Kentucky law does not require a ballot question to spell out every last detail of a constitutional amendment. The language only has to give voters the “substance” of the amendment.
Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers will file their response and the Kentucky Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on the case Feb. 8.