ICYMI: Wisconsin Public Radio Highlights Seven Months of Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin in Action

Crime victim advocate and attorney discusses how the law has been implemented in Wisconsin and is being applied in courtrooms

MADISON  The approved crime victims’ constitutional amendment commonly known as Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin has now been in effect for just under seven months after its ratification vote was certified on May 4th, 2020. In case you missed it, Wisconsin Public Radio recently welcomed crime victim advocate and attorney Rachel Sattler for a discussion on The Morning Show about how the crime victims’ constitutional amendment has been implemented in Wisconsin and is being applied in courtrooms. Sattler is a Crime Victims' Rights Project Attorney at Legal Action of WI, Inc.

You can listen to the interview here, or read key highlights from the interview quoted below:

Marsy's Law
Wisconsin Public Radio, The Morning Show

November 30, 2020

Program Host Lee Rayburn: “Nearly three out of every four Wisconsin voters in April approved amending the state constitution to include specific rights for crime victims… We were the first state to create a crime victims’ bill of rights 40 years ago. We added victims’ rights to our state constitution more than 25 years ago, and this spring, the voters’ support for Marsy’s Law was resounding, and we start your state capitol report this hour with finding out how well we’re doing on behalf of crime victims… Let’s begin with a look at a compare and contrast. How does Marsy’s Law compare to the existing victims’ rights statutes already on the books in Wisconsin?”

Guest Rachel Sattler: “I think that that historical context that you gave in the intro was really important. Wisconsin has long had a robust set of statutory rights that are designed to protect victims against systemic wrongdoing and disregard… Marsy’s Law in many ways amplifies what was already existing arguably in those statutes.”

Rayburn: “So we can better understand how this is working in practice now can you give us an example of how you’ve worked to make victims heard in a criminal case and where Marsy’s Law might fit into that?”

Sattler: “Starting a few years ago, right around the time of the “Me Too” movement, I started observing an increased interest in victims to participate and actively seek to enforce their rights in court. And that is a distinctly different experience than previously where victims may have had the desire to participate and done so to the extent that they believed that they could; there has been an increased desire to push on what that means, and to be heard in new ways on issues. One example that we frequently work on is in the area of a victims’ right to privacy. For example, in sexual assault cases it’s really common for either the prosecutor, the state, or the defense to want to see the privileged mental health records or medical records of a victim. And while our courts have developed a system and there are statutes in place designed to protect the privacy of victims, victims previously didn’t have a role and weren’t able to participate in those motions. That’s something that we’ve been working on on behalf of our clients.”

Sattler: “I think that there are all sorts of organizations and the Department of Justice who provide guidance and trainings for people who work within the system on best practices related to victims’ rights, but I really think that the way we make sure that victims are heard in court and treated fairly and is to give them that opportunity—whether that’s through litigation and sort of the pursuit of challenging what these laws mean, to develop the law, or simply inviting victims in to the parts of the process that they have a right to be heard at, but have not yet been regularly participating in. I think that those are two ways that we can really get a broader approach to victims’ rights. You know, as law develops then courts have legal binding precedent, and everybody that works in the system has precedent that they can look to and follow to determine what their policies and procedure should be”

Rayburn: “Rachel you gave us one example of letting the limiting access to fit mental health records and medical records. Are there other tangible ways that you’ve seen Marsy’s law at work in the courtroom this year?”

Sattler: “One very interesting component is, you know, victims have had a right to a speedy disposition in the statutes for a long time that is similar to a defendant’s right to a speedy trial. What that means and how that’s defined again is sort of dependent on where are you are, but that is an area where, you know, the accused and the victims’ interest often times align, and in this age of COVID has been a particular challenge for not just the accused, but victims as well. How do you get a speedy disposition? You know, victims waiting for years and years for cases to resolve adds to their trauma and that’s a problem and a concern that is shared by victims and accused alike.”

Listen to the full interview from Wisconsin Public Radio here.



About Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin

Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin is a grassroots coalition that championed a unique proposal to give victims of crime equal rights in our state, building on Wisconsin’s laws and history of leading on this issue. The crime victims’ rights state constitutional amendment, also known as Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin, was ratified during the April 7, 2020 election with an overwhelming 75 percent of voters in support.  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].