In 1983, California resident Marsalee Nicholas was killed by her ex-boyfriend. A week after her death, her mother and brother ran into her killer in the grocery store. To their utter astonishment, the killer had been released on bail without their knowledge.
This was the genesis of the movement behind the eponymous “Marsy’s Law,” iterations of which have been incorporated in 35 state constitutions. Under it, crime victims and their families are guaranteed certain rights, including, but not limited to, notice of case developments (such as a defendant’s release on bail and parole), the terms of plea deals to be offered to the accused, and to give statements in court and other official proceedings regarding release, guilty pleas, sentencing, and parole.
Although Pennsylvania statutory law purports to afford these protections to crime victims and their loved ones, it lacks any mechanism by which those individuals may seek legal enforcement of their rights. As a result, if prosecutors fail to follow the provisions of the Pennsylvania Crime Victims Act, the aggrieved victims and their families have no legal recourse. That is why on this Tuesday’s election ballot, there will be a question as to whether the Pennsylvania Constitution shall be amended to, in effect, incorporate Marsy’s Law. If that happens, then victims and their loved ones will have legal standing to bypass prosecutors and go to court to protect their rights.
Not too long ago, given the dedication, diligence, and aggressiveness of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, city residents might have legitimately questioned the need for Marsy’s Law. But that was before District Attorney Larry Krasner, the self-styled “public defender with power,” took office.
As documented in this newspaper and elsewhere, Krasner and his office have repeatedly and consistently demonstrated an indifference bordering on disdain for the rights and concerns of crime victims and their families.
From the treatment of the severely maimed and nearly murdered Mike Poeng (who was not told of his assailant’s sweetheart plea deal and sentence); the widow of murdered police officer Danny Faulkner (who accuses Krasner of outright lying to her about his handling of her husband’s murder case); the mother and sister of murder victim Robert Crawford (who were not informed by Krasner’s office that it had agreed to a life sentence for Robert’s killer); Tram Huynh, the sister of brothers who were tortured and murdered (who was never informed that Krasner’s office had decided not to continue the effort to keep her brothers’ murderer on death row); Linda Schellenger (who charges that she was “manipulated” by an “intellectually dishonest” Krasner regarding the prosecution of her son’s killer); and others, it has become apparent that in Philadelphia there is a pressing need to provide victims and their families with legal standing so that they can protect their interests. Larry Krasner and his prosecutorial hootenanny certainly can’t be counted on to do it.
Given this shameful record, victims’ advocates should seriously consider renaming their proposed constitutional amendment. Instead of Marsy’s Law, it would be far more appropriate to call it “Larry’s Law,” after the district attorney who has so amply demonstrated the crying need for its passage.
As Election Day draws near, Commonwealth Court Judge Ellen Ceisler has broken new legal ground by temporarily enjoining Pennsylvania’s secretary of state from “tabulating and certifying the votes” relating to the proposed constitutional amendment until the state courts have ruled on its constitutionality. In her opinion, Judge Ceisler states that, if passed, the proposed amendment would have “immediate, profound, and, in some instances, irreversible consequences on the constitutional rights of the accused and in the criminal justice system.” While precluding even the mere counting of votes is perplexing, her finding that the amendment would profoundly alter the functioning of the criminal courts is correct.
But it is no less correct that Krasner and his office have too often declined to meet their obligations under the Pennsylvania Crime Victims Act. It is outrageous that it has come to this, but Krasner’s treatment of Philadelphia’s crime victims and their loved ones makes clear that it is well past time to afford them the legal tools needed to protect their interests and vindicate their rights.
So it is that the day of reckoning is at hand. This Tuesday, go to the polls and vote for Larry's Law. The rights you save may someday be your own.