A victim’s rights
Marsy’s Law for Oklahoma has bipartisan support
On November 7, Oklahomans will have the opportunity to vote on State Question 794, also known as Marsy’s Law for Oklahoma. The law aims to amend Section 34 of Article II of the Oklahoma Constitution by increasing the rights of victims of crime to match the rights afforded to the accused.
“Until crime victims have an equal ruling on an equal level, we will never truly receive equal treatment under the law,” said Kim Moyer, state director for Marsy’s Law.
Marsy’s Law was inspired by the 1983 murder of college student Marsalee (Marsy) Nicholas. Just a week after Marsy’s murder, her brother and mother were confronted by the alleged killer at a grocery store. They had no idea he had been released on bail that day. Oftentimes victims and families of victims are left in the dark on investigations, court proceedings, and parole hearings of the accused. Marsy’s Law would change that.
Marsy’s brother, Henry Nicholas, founded the campaign for Marsy’s Law to amend California’s state constitution to grant rights to all victims of crime. The law was passed in 2008 and has since been passed in four other states. After a 2016 evaluation to assess what rights exist in Oklahoma’s constitution and if they could be improved to meet a higher standard, the campaign to pass Marsy’s Law for Oklahoma began.
Since January of 2017, Moyer and her team have traveled Oklahoma, spreading awareness for the state question and educating the public on Marsy’s Law. The bipartisan proposal has received a wide range of support from Oklahoma politicians, county commissioners, district attorneys, victim’s service providers, sheriffs, and more. Included among the supporters are Tulsa County Commissioner Ron Peters, Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado, and Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith.
Oklahoma crime victims have played a key role in advocating for the implementation of Marsy’s Law. In an interview with News on 6, Vicky Jabara—the sister of Khalid Jabara, who was killed in an alleged hate crime in Tulsa in 2016—said, “I think the great thing is this law is a bipartisan law, so everyone can get on board, and I like that about it … It brings communities and victims together.”
Leo and Sharon Schmitz are two other victim advocates. Leo was one of the many victims of the OSU parade crash in 2015 that killed four people and injured 46. Leo suffered the main blow from the police motorcycle that flew through the air.
“I ended up losing my left leg, my right leg was snapped in half at the femur, I had head trauma, and all kinds of things,” Leo said.
The crash left Leo in a coma for months, waking up to a mountain of hospital bills and complex court proceedings to face with little assistance or clarity. Their story is similar to the frustration many victims face.
“What really upset me was the fact that the defense attorneys were trying to tell us that we, the victims, are not allowed to be at the trial, and also were notified two months in advance of the lawsuit against the insurance company to help pay for medical bills, the civil suit. A lot of us took off work just to be there, just to find out when the judge comes out and sees everybody there and says ‘I’m not doin it,’ and set another date,” Leo said.
Requesting a continuance for a court proceeding is common but can be frustrating for victims, especially those who may not live in town.
“There was one lady representing herself who drove five hours from Kansas,” Sharon added. “The first civil suit was at 1:00 p.m. but the next one was set at 9:00 a.m., so she had to get up really early to get there and it just so happened to be on the day school started, so her child had to be in school.”
“They prepare, they take time off work, and it’s extremely stressful for a crime victim because they’re losing sleep over this. They have to be ready and they need to relive one of the most horrible moments of their life, only to walk into court and be told a continuance has been granted,” Moyer said.
If victims were granted constitutional standing, the judge would be required to ask if anyone had any objection to the continuance and state the reason. While it doesn’t guarantee a continuance won’t be granted, the victims are heard and considered by the judge.
“This is not a competition with people who are accused of a crime. We want to bring crime victims equal to those convicted of a crime, not higher than but equal to,” Moyer said. “That doesn’t mean that reduces the rights to anyone accused of a crime, we wouldn’t want that anyway. That’s not justice.”