SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - It’s probably the most publicized amendment ahead of the general election in Georgia - Amendment 4 - known as Marsy’s Law.
The victims rights law actually originated in California and has been adopted in several other states protecting crime victims. While it’s not in the constitution, Georgia already has some of the strongest laws in the nation protecting victims.
It’s named after Marsy Nicholas, a 21-year-California college student who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. When her accused killer was released on bail, her family was never even notified. In 2008, California adopted Marsy’s Law, amending their constitution to include a victim’s bill of rights to ensure that victims and families remain informed and protected during the judicial process that follows any type of crime.
Since then, it’s been adopted in four other states, but that doesn’t mean other states don’t have laws protecting victims. In fact, Georgia law changed long before Marsy’s Law existed in California. In 1996, Georgia lawmakers passed the Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights.
"From what I understand, it’s got among some of the toughest language in the whole country, so that’s the good news,” said Safe Shelter Executive Director, Cheryl Branch. “For over 20 years, we’ve already had this in place.”
Branch says the domestic violence victims that come through their shelter have always been informed and protected by the law that already exists.
“You’ve got the District Attorney’s Office and the Witness Assistant Program who are already notifying victims of every hearing and court date. They accompany the victims [to court], and they assist with victim compensation applications,” Branch said. “I have former clients whose abusers have been in prison for a long time. They still get notifications [saying] ‘he has a parole hearing coming up,’ or about when his release is scheduled.”
Even though it’s already a law in Georgia, it’s not in the constitution. Voters will have to decide whether they want to reinforce that language by having it in both places. It will also help protect victims even more who may feel like the law is not being followed.
"It provides victims with a more streamlined vehicle if they feel like their rights are being violated to get back in front of a judge under Marcy’s Law,” Branch said.
Georgia voters are not the only ones voting on Marsy’s Law in the November general election. It’s on the ballot in six states including Florida, North Carolina, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Nevada.