James Conner at the Flathead Memo wrote this week about “Marsy’s Law,” a ballot measure for which signatures are now being gathered in Montana. Marsy’s Law is what is known by its advocates as a “victims Bill of Rights,” and is modeled on a ballot measure that has passed in a few other states. The Logicosity Blog has a post up about it here too.
Marsy’s Law claims to help victims of violent crimes, by making it easier to prosecute the accused but also keeping them behind bars for longer periods of time. This, mind you, comes as Democrats and Republicans in Washington are agreeing that prison sentences have been grotesquely excessive and are in need of reform toward some leniency. So Marsy’s Law is the kind of thing that you would have expected to see in the 1990s, when “Crime Bills” like mandatory minimums and sentence enhancements were all the rage and even moderate Democrats supported them.
My bigger problem is that this effort to amend the Montana Constitution is being funded, and was conceived, entirely by a California billionaire named Henry Nicholas, founder of Broadcom, who apparently has no connection to Montana at all. Nicholas donated around $700,000 to the Montana project to get signatures and will no doubt throw in more. Chuck Denowh, the GOP operative, is running the effort and probably approached Nicholas to pitch him on the whole thing. Like any good astroturfer, Denowh is trying to make it appear on social media as though many Montanans are actively interested in supporting the the measure (they aren’t). And to my knowledge, no law enforcement official, nor victim, nor the Attorney General, has recently voiced any major needs or concern that at the Montana legislature to ask for all the things that Marsy’s Law provides. So it’s unclear why Nicholas is suddenly concerned about something in Montana that nobody really asked for.
Not everything in Marsy’s Law is objectionable, but as a whole, there are many things wrong with it, starting with the fact that it will amend the Montana Constitution. This is not a proposed statute that will be on the ballot. It’s a constitutional amendment, and many of the things it proposes could ultimately be ruled unconstitutional under the U.S. constitution or federal law. For example, the measure would allow an alleged victim of a crime to refuse to be deposed by the defense lawyer. If you are an accuser, the defendant has the right to confront you. That’s in the U.S. Constitution. Also, in many states this bill has been used to keep people from being paroled, even when they should be, and it has acted as a gateway for instituting harsher sentences. Keeping people in prison who would have been eligible for parole drives up costs and sticks Montana taxpayers with the bill.
Though Nicholas may have legitimate personal reason for funding these measures (his sister was murdered when she was a young woman), what he is doing is meddling in a state where, to my knowledge, there is no problem with the criminal justice system in so far as the treatment of victims. One would think that if Nicholas were so concerned with victims rights in Montana, that he would have spent some time here, done some sort of fact finding. Instead, he will eventually have mailed a check of close to $1 million to a GOP operative who will no-doubt take a generous portion for himself, and then use the remainder to fund a ballot measure that will confuse citizens and offer them a solution to a problem that barely exists.