Unlike other state questions voters will decide in November, State Question 794, also known as Marsy’s Law, is part of a nationwide movement. Each effort seeks to address the discrepancy between convicted violent offenders, who have protections under federal and state laws, and their victims, who have no federal protections and only statewide protections in states with enacted Marsy’s Laws. Known collectively as victims’ rights, the various state-centered Marsy’s Law initiatives seek to even the legal playing field between perpetrators of violent crime and their victims.
The origins of the victims’ rights movement began more than three decades ago. In 1983, Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in California. One week later, Marsy’s brother and mother walked into a grocery store only to find the killer inside, having been released on bail. In 2008, California voters passed the first statewide Marsy’s Law, thanks largely to the efforts of Marsy’s brother, philanthropist and tech-giant co-founder Henry Nicholas. Besides California, states with Marsy’s Laws include Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota and Ohio.
In Oklahoma, the push for Marsy’s Law gained serious traction when the House of Representatives unanimously adopted HJR 1002 in February 2017. That measure directed Oklahoma’s Secretary of State to put SQ 794 to a vote of the people.
Proponents: ‘Balance the scales of justice’
According to the official “yes” campaign, Marsy’s Law for Oklahoma, SQ 794 “… will restore balance and fairness to our criminal justice system by affording victims Constitutionally protected rights.” Among others, some of the specific provisions for victims would include:
- timely notice of legal proceedings involving the criminal;
- an ability to speak in hearings regarding the criminal’s future;
- to receive notice of any release or escape of the accused.
On Oct. 7, The Oklahoman Editorial Board published an editorial supporting SQ 794 and listed the following groups as supporters:
- Oklahoma District Attorneys Association
- Oklahoma Fraternal Order of Police
- Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault
- Oklahoma Women’s Coalition
- YWCA Oklahoma City
Opponents: Protect defendants’ rights
In April, an intern at the Oklahoma Policy Institute authored a post outlining some of the potential risks and unintended consequences of SQ 794’s approval. The author, Annaly Sullivan, graduated from the University of East Anglia with a master’s in impact evaluation. Her argument against SQ 794 included points about the costs to implement and possible constitutional challenges in the courts, as has been the case elsewhere.
Further, in October 2017, the ACLU of Ohio argued that Marsy’s Law could infringe on the defendants’ right to a speedy trial (see video below).
Make a plan, remember to vote
Regardless of your personal position on SQ 794, make sure to attend your local polling place on election day and exercise your constitutional right to have your voice heard. For those facing transportation issues, ride-sharing service will offer free rides to polling locations on election day Nov. 6.