MADISON – A Dane County judge Tuesday determined a measure meant to protect crime victims’ rights was improperly enacted and should be rescinded.
But Dane County Circuit Judge Frank Remington ruled he would allow Marsy’s Law to remain in effect for now so his decision can be appealed.
Voters adopted what’s known as Marsy’s Law as an amendment to the state constitution in April. But Remington concluded the question presented to voters was inexact and misleading.
Voters should have been asked two questions instead of one so they were aware that the amendment both increased the rights of victims and diminished the rights of those accused of crimes.
“Voters deserve to know what they are voting on,” Remington wrote in his 36-page decision.
“A separate ballot question should have been presented to the voters to seek their consent to change the existing rights given to persons accused of a crime.”
In 1980, Wisconsin became the first state in the country to adopt a “crime victims bill of rights” and in 1993 adopted a constitutional amendment to afford victims’ privacy and ensure they are kept abreast of their cases.
Marsy’s Law was put forward to strengthen some of the rights guaranteed in state law by putting them into the state constitution. The wide-ranging measure allows victims to attend all proceedings in their cases and allows them to refuse to sit for some depositions.
Remington noted the state constitution previously explicitly guaranteed those accused of crimes the right to a fair trial, but that part of the constitution was eliminated when Marsy’s Law was adopted.
“It is hard to view the change as only being symbolic,” he wrote.
The ballot question asked voters if the constitution should be amended so that the rights of crime victims were protected with “equal force” to the rights of those accused of crimes. But the actual amendment says the rights of victims would be protected in a “no less vigorous” way.
Remington said those terms are not equivalent, noting “if something is to be done no less vigorous it can be greater to that which is equal.”
The lawsuit was brought by the Wisconsin Justice Initiative, state Democratic Sen. Fred Risser of Madison and defense attorneys Craig Johnson, Jacqueline Boynton andJerome Buting.
“We’re very happy with the decision,” said Johnson, the president of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative. “I think it’s a win not only for the criminal justice system, but frankly it’s a win for voters in Wisconsin, too.”
The measure was put in place with the help of the group Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin, an arm of a national organization that has been working on similar measures across the country. In a statement, the group said it was confident an appeals court would put the measure back in place.
“We strongly disagree with today’s decision to subvert the democratic process and nullify the will of more than 1 million Wisconsin voters who overwhelmingly supported Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin this April,” the group said in its statement.
In court, Marsy’s Law was defended by Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul’s office.
Kaul spokeswoman Gillian Drummond said the Department of Justice is reviewing the decision and did not say whether it would appeal it.
Contact Patrick Marley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.