Marsy's Law for Wisconsin Hosts Dane County National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Virtual Roundtable
Survivors, advocates work to educate Wisconsinites about their rights under the new crime victims' constitutional amendment enacted one year ago
MADISON – In recognition of National Crime Victims' Rights Week (NCVRW), Marsy's Law for Wisconsin today held a virtual roundtable discussion focused on educating Wisconsinites about their rights under the new crime victims' constitutional amendment enacted one year ago. The annual observation of NCVRW comes just after the one-year anniversary of last year’s decisive victory for victims’ rights in the spring election, when 75 percent of Wisconsin residents cast votes in favor of the crime victims’ constitutional amendment commonly known as Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin.
Leigh Mills, survivor and national award-winning journalist kicked off today’s discussion by describing the importance of a victims’ right to information about their case. “This is the first time I’ve ever shared publicly about this one part of my life and the experience I’ve had as a victim of stalking,” said Mills. “It’s so difficult to understand where victims are coming from if you haven’t walked in their shoes and certainly, every victim’s experience is different—but for me, when you truly live in fear for your safety, information is the only way to get your power back.”
“A lot of Marsy’s Law is about increasing that information pipeline between the system and the victim so that the victim has a greater and greater sense of gaining control back over what they’ve lost,” added Assistant Attorney General Miriam Falk, who served as moderator. “Because it really is what you lose, is a lot of control over your life.”
Participants in today’s event also included victim advocates and legal system stakeholders, who addressed additional ways the new crime victims’ constitutional amendment has empowered crime victims in Wisconsin’s criminal justice process.
“With the codification of this language in the law, the thing that I’m able to tell my victims is: you can say things that you didn’t think that you could say before. Your mental health records are not necessarily going to be trotted out in front of the court and talked about,” said Dana Pellebon, Co-Executive Director of the Rape Crisis Center. “For us, Marsy’s Law is another layer of protection that we can say, not only are we working individually to make sure that your privacy is covered, but this is a part of our law moving forward.”
“Victims didn’t ask to be victimized, they didn’t ask to be put in this position,” said Verónica Figueroa Velez, Executive Director of UNIDOS. “With Marsy’s Law, one thing that has happened for us is to really been able to give the victims that power, that this is your case and you have now all the tools at your disposal.”
Michelle Viste, Executive Director of the Office of Crime Victim Services at the Wisconsin Department of Justice discussed some of the ways that law enforcement ensures victims’ right to reasonable protection from the accused. “Really it was the reason why Marsy’s Law was passed and created in the first place, is for victims to be notified when their accusers are released from custody,” said Viste. “That’s another way that law enforcement and the criminal justice system, in general, can ensure reasonable protection for the victim from the accused is by notifying them. And Marsy’s Law does that: there’s a constitutional right a victim has for notification of when the accused is released.”
Amber Peterson, Legal Advisor in the Wisconsin Director of State Courts Office detailed how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the legal system. “Despite all of the hardships, there have been some positives that came out of it,” said Peterson. “Many, many counties around the state had shifted to conducting hearings remotely. One of the really great benefits that came out of that that we are hearing about consistently is how that has afforded victims many more options in how they appear in court.”
Today’s panel discussion was the final of three such events hosted by Marsy’s Law in Wisconsin throughout NCVRW.
“National Crime Victims’ Rights Week has been a wonderful opportunity to highlight victims’ rights here in Wisconsin,” said Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin Outreach Director Nela Kalpic. “As we look back on the first year of Marsy’s Law in action, we’re incredibly grateful to all of the stakeholders who participated in this panel and helped us educate Dane County residents about their rights under the crime victims' constitutional amendment.”
You can watch a video of the roundtable online.
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.