ICYMI: Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin Advocates Recognized for Effort to Educate Voters on Victims’ Rights Amendment

Grassroots outreach by advocates for proposed victims’ rights constitutional amendment highlighted in recent article ahead of April vote

MADISON  In case you missed it, advocates for Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin were recognized in a recent article in The Journal Times highlighting their work to educate Wisconsin voters ahead of the April 7 vote on the proposed amendment. Senator Van Wanggaard, who authored the bipartisan victims’ rights initiative, joined grassroots activists for a recent event aimed at educating residents about the proposed crime victims’ constitutional amendment.

You can read the article in The Journal Times here, or find excerpts below:

Advocates make case for new victims' rights amendment before Wisconsinites vote on April 7
The Journal Times

February 17, 2020

BURLINGTON — In 1993, Wisconsin ... put victims’ rights into its constitution. Those rights could be further protected if voters approve a constitutional amendment on April 7.

The goal is to make it so victims of crimes have rights equal to those guaranteed to suspects.

The proposed constitutional amendment is part of a nationwide effort known as Marsy’s Law. Similar amendments and laws have been approved in more than 10 other states.

During an event Monday at The Coffee House at Chestnut & Pine in Burlington, Amanda Roddy, a field organizer for Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin, pointed out that many (if not most) Americans can rattle off the Miranda warning from memory, listing criminal suspects' rights, such as the right to an attorney and that “anything you say can and will be used against you.”

But victims’ rights are not nearly as well known, partially because they are not so explicitly protected.

Roddy and other advocates want it to become “part of our culture, our norm” to hold the rights of survivors of crime as equal to the rights of suspects. That’s why Roddy thinks it is important for Wisconsin voters to vote in favor of the constitutional amendment on April 7.

This kind of change can encourage victims, particularly those of violent and heinous crimes like attempted homicide and sexual assault, to come forward knowing they will be listened to and respected, said state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, who spoke at Monday’s event. Wanggaard represents the 21st Senate District, which includes Burlington.

“There’s a lot of people who have stuffed down all that (trauma), victims who have never come forward,” Wanggaard said.

Lynn U., who was the victim of an attempted murder and sexual assault in Milwaukee in June 2017, pointed out that the man who stalked and attacked her got access to all of the police records for free. Lynn U. — who has since changed her name and asked to be referred to with her previous first name and last initial in this story — would have had to pay for them.

That’s just one of the ways Lynn U. and other advocates say the law can sometimes favor suspects to victims.

The proposed Wisconsin amendment doesn’t make any mention of access to additional court records. But it does guarantee other rights, such as allowing victims to participate in nearly every step of the court process — from plea hearings to parole hearings to possible pardons — rather than only being able to make a statement to the court at disposition, as is guaranteed under the current Wisconsin Constitution.

Before Wisconsin’s first victims’ rights amendment was approved in 1993, Wanggaard said that it was common for victims to only talk to law enforcement when the crime was reported, maybe talk with a district attorney, and then not again until an eventual court trial.

“They were not really part of the process,” said Wanggaard, who was a Racine Police officer at the time. “It’s about being able to have victims have closure.”

The 1993 amendment was approved with 84.1% of the vote.

The Marsy’s Law-inspired amendment “allows them (victims) to be a participant in the process,” said Wanggaard, who has been a supporter of Marsy’s Law since it was first proposed in Wisconsin more than three years ago.

Still, Wisconsin’s legislators support it by and large. Each of the four times it went before legislators in 2017 and 2019 (required steps before an amendment could be put before voters), it received more than 80% approval.

There are also more than six pages of names of supporters of the amendment on EqualRightsForWI.org, a website paid for by Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin.

Sturtevant Police Chief Sean Marschke, Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling, Retired Racine Police Chief Kurt Wahlen and Burlington Police Chief Mark Anderson have also publicly supported the amendment.



About Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin

Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin is a grassroots coalition that is advocating for a unique proposal to give victims of crime equal rights in our state Constitution, building on Wisconsin’s laws and history of leading on this issue. The proposal passed with strong bipartisan support in the Legislature and will be before voters for ratification on April 7, 2020. Marsy’s Law is named after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas of California who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Only one week after her death, Marsy’s mother and brother, Henry T. Nicholas, walked into a grocery store where they were confronted by the accused murderer. The family, who had just come from a visit to Marsy’s grave, was unaware that the accused had been released on bail. In an effort to honor his sister, Dr. Nicholas has made it his life’s mission to give victims and their families constitutional protections and equal rights.

Victims and supporters interested in sharing their stories can email [email protected].