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Under Marsy’s Law, Police Using Violence Can Claim ‘Victim’ Status

by Ed Lyon

Citizens encounter cops in many ways. Cops respond to emergencies, provide security at some public gatherings and private forums, direct traffic, and address children in schools. Aside from uniform colors and headgear styles, cops look pretty similar with their utility belts, shoulder patches, collar tabs, badges and name tags. Under a law that is slowly, inexorably and steadily becoming parts of state constitutions, name tags could well vanish as a standard part of police uniforms, at least figuratively and quite possibly even literally as a result of these constitutional amendments called Marsy’s Law. 

Marsy’s Law is essentially a victims’ rights platform. Many people perceive that the Constitution’s Bill of Rights is more of a mandate for mollycoddling criminals than a leash to prevent the government from riding roughshod over the citizenry. With this belief so prevalent today, it is not difficult to understand the origin of the Marsy’s Law movement. 

In 1983, Marsalee (“Marsy”) Nichols was murdered by her boyfriend. A week later, Marsy’s brother and mother met her alleged killer in a grocery store. He had been granted bail, but Marsy’s family had not been informed. The brother, Henry Nichols, is a billionaire, and an enraged one at that. He founded an organization called Marsy’s Law for All, LLC. The organization’s sole reason for existence is to fund political campaigns for every state, and eventually the federal government, to amend their constitutions with a victims’ rights amendment. By November 2018, 11 states had either enacted into law, or amended their constitution with a version of Marsy’s Law. 

Cops were quick to glom onto Marsy’s Law for their own benefit. Highway Patrol officers and sheriff’s deputies who were involved in shootings with suspects in 2018 immediately claimed the protections afforded to crime victims under South Dakota’s version of Marsy’s Law. The officers were thus able to keep their names from being released to the public. Taken to the extreme, police claiming victim status under Marsy’s Law may now lawfully refuse to answer police internal affairs-compelled questioning, civil and criminal lawsuit depositions, and even trials for the very suspects they arrest. 

By mid-2018, eight cops in North Dakota have hidden themselves from the public behind that state’s version of Marsy’s Law. With these instances of secrecy increasing, it is becoming widely feared that police will use Marsy’s Law to hide their inner workings and procedures from public scrutiny with governmental transparency concerning acts of law enforcement a thing of the past, “particularly when its [sic] controversial or potentially illegal,” stated the Cato Institute’s Jonathan Banks. If the actions of the North and South Dakota cops are any indications, these negative predictions are already coming to pass. 

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Sources: aclu.org, reason.com, ballotpedia.org

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