Judge rejects ballot measure on crime victims’ rights

This is the third Constitutional Revision Commission measure removed from the ballot

Saying the measure does not meet requirements for “truth in packaging,” a Leon County circuit judge Monday rejected a proposed constitutional amendment designed to expand the rights of crime victims.

The decision by Circuit Judge Karen Gievers on a ballot proposal known as “Marsy’s Law” is the latest setback for proposed constitutional amendments approved this spring by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission. Judges have also struck down proposals dealing with a ban on greyhound racing and changes in the education system, though appeals are pending in those cases at the Florida Supreme Court.

Gievers’ 11-page ruling Monday dealt with a measure that has been slated to appear on the November ballot as Amendment 6. The proposal would expand rights for crime victims, raise the retirement age for judges and change the way laws and rules are interpreted in judicial proceedings.

But Gievers focused on issues involving victims’ rights and said the ballot title and summary — the wording that voters see when they go to the polls — would not meet legal requirements to “fully, fairly and accurately” inform voters about the purpose of the proposed amendment.

“Florida’s existing criminal justice and juvenile justice systems are based on state constitutional provisions, statutes and rules,” Gievers wrote. “Revision 6 does not tell voters that years of settled laws and provisions that comprise the criminal justice system and the juvenile justice system will be significantly changed.”

The proposed ballot summary, in part, says the measure creates “constitutional rights for victims of crime; requires courts to facilitate victims’ rights; (and) authorizes victims to enforce their rights throughout criminal and juvenile justice processes.”

Detailed text of the proposal then spells out a series of rights for crime victims, such as the right to receive notice to be present at court proceedings; the right to be heard in a variety of type of proceedings; the right to confer with prosecutors about issues such as plea bargains; the right to full restitution; and the right to proceedings free from “unreasonable” delay.

But Gievers found fault with what she said was left out of the ballot title and summary. In part, she said the proposal would not explain to voters how it would affect the rights of people accused of crimes.

Gievers said a 1988 constitutional amendment provided rights to crime victims “to the extent that these rights do not interfere with the constitutional rights of the accused.” She said the new proposal did not adequately inform voters that it would repeal the “qualified” victims’ rights included in the 1988 measure.

“Neither the title nor summary mentions that the victims rights provided in 1988 were qualified and subject to the constitutional rights of the accused,” Gievers wrote. “Neither the title nor summary mentions the adoption of the CRC (Constitution Revision Commission) proposal expressly repeals the 30-year-old existing constitutional provision … nor any effect on the accused.”

The Marsy’s Law proposal is part of a broader national victims’ rights movement stemming from the 1983 death of a California woman, Marsy Nicholas, who was stalked and killed by an ex-boyfriend.

It has faced two legal challenges, with one filed by Naples defense lawyer Lee Hollander and the League of Women Voters of Florida and the other by Plantation Key resident Amy Knowles. Gievers’ decision in the consolidated lawsuits appears likely to be appealed, joining the other cases that have gone to the Supreme Court.

Jim has been executive editor of the News Service since 2013 and has covered state government and politics in Florida since 1998. Jim came to the News Service in 2011 after stints as Tallahassee bureau chief for The Florida Times-Union, The Daytona Beach News-Journal and Health News Florida. He moved to Florida in 1990 and worked eight years for the Times-Union in Jacksonville and St. Johns County. A native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he graduated from Northwestern University and worked at The Blade newspaper in Toledo, Ohio, before moving to the Times-Union. Jim enjoys covering legal and regulatory issues and has extensive experience in covering health care.