PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Tuesday is Election Day, and while your ballot will differ depending on where you live, the one thing everyone will be deciding on is Marsy’s Law. Advocates for the law say it will advance victims’ rights in court, but opponents say the law is too vague.
Marsy’s Law would give constitutional rights to crime victims. It’s on the ballot in Pennsylvania as a referendum after the state Senate passed it unanimously over the summer. The law is active in 11 states.
While it’s facing opposition, victims’ families say they’re fighting in honor of the memories and legacies of their loved ones.
“I found that by standing up for the other people, that’s how I deal with my anger,” Roberta Ferris said.
Ferris is standing up for her son and other crime victims. Her son, Ryan, was 14 years old when he was killed in a house fire that was later ruled arson.
“He wouldn’t want me to sit around,” Ferris said, “and I’m not sitting around.”
Ferris is a member of the group Parents of Murdered Children of Delaware County. Gwen Runge is the group’s president.
“We want justice. That’s all we’re asking,” Runge said. “We can’t have our loved ones back, but can we please have some justice?”
They’re now lobbying support for Marsy’s Law. Pennsylvania already has a crime victims’ Bill of Rights.
However, Marsy’s Law would move those protections to the state constitution. The provisions include giving victims the right to be informed of developments in their cases, being notified when the perpetrator is released from prison and the right to submit an impact statement to the court.
“I don’t know what we would be saying as a society, as a culture, if we decided that crime victims shouldn’t have a voice in the courtroom,” Marsy’s Law For All Executive Director Jennifer Riley said. “Is Pennsylvania ready for constitutional rights for crime victims? Is it something that Pennsylvanians want?”
The law is facing opposition. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit claiming, among other things, the law strips some rights from defendants and it’s too vague.
“You don’t roll a whole big combination of changes, which is what Marsy’s Law is, into one question and say yes or not — that’s it,” deputy legal director Mary Catherine Roper said.
But for Runge and Ferris, the issue is just that black and white.
“We live with this the rest of our life,” Runge said. “We weren’t asked to be brought into this predicament.”
Actor Kelsey Grammer is also lobbying for the law. It’s named after a murdered California college student. Her family says they were never notified of her murder’s release.
Marsy’s Law was passed by the legislature nearly unanimously with only eight lawmakers voting no.
Regardless of what happens in Tuesday’s referendum, the votes will not be certified until the ACLU’s lawsuit is resolved.