BOISE — Savahna Egbert doesn’t know where her stalker is today — and she doesn’t want to know.
Egbert, a former Twin Falls resident, has opted not to receive updates on the legal status and whereabouts of the man who followed her and sent threatening messages several years ago. But she believes that other crime victims should have the right to know those things if they choose.
Today, Egbert is the Twin Falls coordinator for Marsy’s Law, a proposed constitutional amendment that would expand the rights of crime victims in Idaho.
Egbert says she wouldn’t change anything about her experience with the Twin Falls justice system. But she says victims in other counties may not have received the same attention and opportunities that she did.
“I can’t imagine having gone through what I did without that type of care,” Egbert said. “I think Marsy’s Law presents an opportunity for that to become the standard rather than just the exceptional care of Twin Falls County.”
This is the second year that Marsy’s Law has been introduced in the Idaho state legislature. It passed in the Senate last year, but was ultimately shot down in the House State Affairs committee. Versions of the measure, which originated in California, have passed in four other states: Illinois, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Ohio.
Proposed changes in Idaho include giving victims the right to “confer” with the prosecution — they currently have the right to “communicate” — and requiring that victims be notified at all steps of court proceedings and “heard” prior to acceptance of sentencing, parole, guilty pleas, and other matters. A victim is defined as "an individual who suffers direct or threatened physical, financial or emotional harm as the result of a commission of a crime or juvenile offense."
Egbert noted the right to “confer” as particularly significant. “Communicate” could be interpreted as loosely as sending a single email to the victim, she said, while “confer is a much more intimate way of addressing victim’s needs.”
Marsy’s Law likely wouldn’t change any current practices in Twin Falls, according to Twin Falls County Prosecuting Attorney Grant Loebs.
“There isn’t anything in there that we’re not doing already,” Loebs said.
Where the effects of Marsy’s Law are more likely to be felt: smaller counties with fewer resources.
There’s been some question as to how the amendment could impact these counties on a fiscal, as well as procedural, level.
“For smaller counties that don’t have the mechanisms in place already, this is going to create more of a requirement for them to have to provide these notification provisions,” said Kathy Griesmeyer, policy director of the ACLU of Idaho. “We’re providing rights for crime victims but not putting any funding toward how those rights might be protected.”
An economic analysis published by backers of Marsy’s Law in December estimated that the amendment could cost as much as $553,000 annually. However, the definition of "victim" in the legislation was broader at the time that the analysis was published; with the bill's current definition of "victim," it's expected to cost less.
The cost may also go down if smaller counties “find ways to collaborate and share resources” for notifications, a news release announcing the analysis noted.
The ACLU is opposed to the proposal, Griesmeyer said, largely because of its potential to exacerbate problems within the Idaho criminal justice system such as overcrowded prisons and high public defender caseloads.
The ACLU believes Marsy’s Law could lead to delayed court proceedings at the pretrial and appeals stages and the delay of offenders being released from prison, resulting in “folks staying incarcerated for longer periods of time,” Griesmeyer said.
For the constitutional amendment to be enacted, Marsy’s Law must be passed by two-thirds of the House and Senate. After that, it must be approved by a majority of Idaho voters.
In the meantime, an alternative measure that would address victims’ rights through statute — rather than a change to the constitution — has also been introduced in the legislature.
Idaho’s Victim Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, and Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, is an “conservative option” in response to the Marsy’s Law bill, Zito said.
Griesmeyer said that while the ACLU would prefer any reforms to be in the form of legislative changes rather than constitutional amendments, the ACLU is not supporting either measure.
Neither bill has yet had a full committee hearing.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the definition of "victim" under Marsy's Law is "any person or entity directly and proximately harmed." It has been updated to reflect the most recent version of the bill.