Victims of violent crimes in Idaho deserve representation during and after the trials of their perpetrators. They deserve to have their voices heard. They deserve, essentially, to reap the benefits of what Marsy’s Law intends to do.
But they deserve better than what the law would actually provide in practice.
Marsy’s Law, which last year passed the Senate but was ultimately shot down in the House State Affairs Committee, seeks to ensure that victims are conferred with during the trial of the accused, while also expanding what constitutes a “victim.” This year, it’s headed for the House floor after nearly three hours of testimony Wednesday. Since it’s a state constitutional amendment, it would require a two-thirds vote from both the House and the Senate.
Victims would be heard — not just talked to — during and after the case, including when the offender moves to and from prison. But victims would still hold no sway over final judicial decisions. For example, instead of just sending an email to the victim that details the perpetrator’s plea deal, attorneys would be required to also listen to the victim’s side.
The intention of the law is certainly noble, but we have concerns about the cost, especially for small, cash-strapped counties and cities. And as a constitutional amendment, it does not come paired with funding. That would stick counties and cities with the cost of bringing everyone’s attorneys to the table and ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard, including the victim’s.
A group supporting Marsy’s Law in Idaho estimated in December that the measure could cost as much as $553,000 statewide. For counties that already lack the time and money to meet their basic judicial requirements, this law would wrap them in an even tighter bind.
We’re hardly the only ones voicing these concerns too. Idaho’s American Civil Liberties Union worried the law would slow down the back end of the criminal justice process, as conferring with victims would add another layer of communication between already overworked public attorneys and already underfunded judicial systems.
When victims of a crime are kept in the dark about prosecution, they often feel victimized for a second time. That’s a sentiment that should be heard and considered, as victims do deserve to be kept in the loop, especially when their offender is due to be released from prison.
For bigger counties like Twin Falls, it wouldn’t change much; Both Twin Falls County victim witness coordinator Lori Stewart and prosecuting attorney Grant Loebs agreed that the county has already implemented pretty much everything the law would introduce.
But for small counties that don’t already have systems in place to confer with victims, complying with Marsy’s Law would be too big a burden to overcome. If the state truly wants to give victims the voice they deserve, we urge them to do it right. Instead of a constitutional amendment, enact the law so that it’s paired with funding, ensuring that small counties and cities can implement it properly.
The premise of the law is good. Victims of crimes should not feel powerless during the prosecutorial process. But in order for that to work, a source of funding must also be introduced, or the state is setting up rural communities to fail.