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Proposal would give crime victims a host of rights

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican lawmakers and crime victim advocates introduced a constitutional amendment Tuesday that would provide crime victims with a host of rights, including the right to have their personal information sealed in police records and allow them to speak out at more court proceedings.

The Wisconsin Constitution and state law already provide victims with a list of rights, including the right to privacy, the right to be treated with dignity, the right to attend court proceedings, the right to protection from defendants and the opportunity to make a statement during sentencing, restitution and compensation proceedings.

The new amendment, authored by Rep. Todd Novak of Dodgeville and Sen. Van Wanggaard of Racine, largely duplicates existing language but takes it a step further in several areas. In addition to the right to privacy, victims would have the right to have information or records that could be used to locate them or disclose confidential information sealed. They also would have the right to be heard in plea, parole, revocation, expungement or pardon proceedings.

Current state law allows victims to refuse interviews or depositions with defense attorneys in criminal cases; the new amendment allows victims to opt out of direct discovery requests as well. Discovery is the process in which one side in a case turns over all of its evidence to the other side.

Prosecutors are automatically required to turn over their evidence to defense attorneys in criminal cases so there’s no need for the defense to demand discovery directly from a victim in a criminal case. The amendment’s provision, however, could block criminal defendants from launching lawsuits against victims because victims wouldn’t have to give up any information.

“Our focus needs to be on caring for and protecting … victims, not coddling criminals,” Wanggaard said in a news release announcing the amendment.

Attorney General Brad Schimel supports the bill. He said in the same news release that the amendment will ensure equal rights for victims that are “clear, enforceable, and permanent.”

A constitutional amendment in Wisconsin must pass two consecutive legislative sessions and a statewide referendum before it can become part of the document.

A number of other states, including California, Illinois and both Dakotas have adopted similar victim rights constitutional amendments. Oklahoma’s House voted unanimously Tuesday to send a similar amendment to voters.

Supporters have dubbed the amendments “Marsy’s Law” for California college student Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, who was killed by an ex-boyfriend in 1983. Her brother, Henry Nicholas, a retired California technology company executive, has bankrolled an effort to put such amendments in place across the country.

The amendment has caused confusion in North and South Dakota. It has caused some law enforcement agencies to limit public information about crimes, including the locations of crimes and the identity of victimized businesses and the names of car crash victims. South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley convened a task force in December to figure out how to interpret the amendment.

Prosecutors in North Dakota have said they think the amendments’ provisions are vague and could slow the justice system down because victims have to be notified of all proceedings relating to a defendant’s release and sentencing, including bail hearings. Defense attorneys in that state have argued the amendment tramples defendants’ rights.

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