A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Whitney H. Westerfield: Your vote matters, use it on November 6 to protect Kentucky’s crime victims

This Nov. 6 is the culmination of a three-year journey to bring Marsy’s Law to your ballot and educate you about why Kentucky crime victims deserve equal rights. I couldn’t be prouder or more thankful. When you see the question about constitutional rights for crime victims this Election Day, please know it is the result of the tireless efforts of crime victims, victims’ advocates, elected officials and private citizens from across Kentucky.

If Kentucky voters choose to adopt constitutional rights for crime victims, it will be a huge victory for those who deserve to be treated fairly and with dignity. They will be guaranteed commonsense rights that any of us would expect in the same situation. Rights like notification of future court proceedings, notification when their accuser is released, the right to restitution, and even the fundamental right to simply be present, among others.

There are two major problems facing our justice system which this amendment will fix.

First is the imbalance created when the accused are guaranteed constitutional rights, while victims are not. Victims are only guaranteed statutory rights, which, compared with constitutional rights, are flimsy, subjective, and able to be overturned at any time. This disparity means the accused automatically have an advantage over their victims in court. Marsy’s Law will correct this by ensuring victims are provided equal, constitutional rights.

Second, under the current system, a victim in Lexington is not treated the same as a victim in Paducah. All victims across our Commonwealth should be treated with dignity and respect, no matter where they live. Marsy’s Law will ensure victims are given a meaningful voice consistently in every county and in every courthouse.

Throughout my time as a prosecutor and our journey to bring Marsy’s Law to the ballot, I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with countless victims and hear their stories. Their accounts are heartbreaking; filled with loss, fear and hurt. Those emotions stem both from the crime that was committed to them and from their experiences in the courts.

For many victims, their power is taken away the moment they are victimized, and then taken away again and again as they attempt to navigate the criminal justice system. Imagine a system that instead empowers victims, informing them about their case, and lending them a voice in the process that too often is lost today. Imagine a system that helps victims begin to heal from what’s been done to them.

Together we can make this possible. We can’t change what happened to them, but by voting YES on Nov. 6 we can help restore hope and their voice in the process.

You may have heard about a recent court ruling involving the Marsy’s Law ballot language. I can assure you that Marsy’s Law will still be on the ballot this Election Day. We have appealed the court’s ruling and if we win that appeal – even after the election – your vote for Marsy’s Law WILL count.

Now, more than ever, we need your help to cross the finish line. Please remember to read all the way down your ballot or even flip it over to find the only constitutional amendment. Then vote YES for constitutional rights for crime victims.

Senator Whitney H. Westerfield is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and also serves as a member on the Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee; the Agriculture Committee; the Capital Planning Advisory Board; the Natural Resources and Energy Committee; the Tobacco Settlement Agreement Fund Oversight Committee; the Program Review and Investigations Committee; the Budget Review Subcommittee on Justice and Judiciary; and serves as Co-Chair of the Juvenile Justice Oversight Council.

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