Marsy’s Law: Amendment 6 Would Add Victims' Rights To Fla. Constitution

Oct 18, 2018

Amendment 6, known as Marsy’s Law, will let Florida voters decide if a list of victims’ rights should be added to the state’s constitution.

While supporters say it equals the rights of victims and the accused, critics call it misleading.

A Victim Says It’s Necessary

On March 23, 2017, Michael Liles, who passed away Tuesday, found his wife on the kitchen floor of their Jacksonville home.  

Editors Note: Michael Liles died Tuesday, about a week after his interview with WJCT and before this story’s publishing.

“He brutalized her,” Liles said on October 8. “This man beat her with a golf club if you can imagine. He broke both of her jaws, shattered her eye socket, almost severed the ears that I used to whisper into.”

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Deborah Liles was an elementary school music teacher. And this was actually the second time she was attacked at home, by different people, in a bizarre lightning-strikes-twice type scenario. This time she didn’t survive.

“I still find myself constantly reaching for her,” Liles had said. “We really just adored each other, enjoyed each other’s company.”

Liles became involved with the Justice Coalition, leading it before his passing. It’s an organization that provides services to victims and he had been publicly advocating for Amendment 6’s passage.

At the time of the interview he was about to attend the 19th hearing pertaining to his wife’s murder. “And not one of them have we ever been notified,” he said.

Currently the constitution says victims have the right to “be informed, to be present, and to be heard when relevant, at all crucial stages of criminal proceedings, to the extent that these rights do not interfere with the constitutional rights of the accused.”

But Amendment 6 strikes that out and replaces it with a lengthy list of victims rights, 11 of them, many having subsections. And it includes the right to accurate and timely notice of all of the case’s public proceedings, including pleas, trials, sentencings, as well as:

  • The right to due process and to be treated with fairness and respect for the victim’s dignity.
  • The right, within the judicial process, to be reasonably protected from the accused and any person acting on behalf of the accused.
  • The right to confer with the prosecuting attorney concerning any plea agreements, participation in pretrial diversion programs, release, restitution, sentencing, or any other disposition of the case.
  • The right to be informed of all postconviction processes and procedures, to participate in such processes and procedures.

Although some critical of the amendment say many of those 11 proposed constitutional rights are already state law, Liles argued from his experience they weren’t being enforced.

“That’s the critical piece that makes it so important for it to be in the constitution,” he said. “Right now in that particular set of circumstances, the response was ‘we’re very sorry.’ That’s not an acceptable answer when that kind of right has been trampled.”

He wanted that constitutional strength. He said Marsy’s law is about equalizing the rights of the accused and victims, which he was considered.

“What is addressed in the amendment is that victims need to be provided consideration and dignity,” he said.

A Prosecutor Calls It Misleading

Amendment 6 is also called Marsy’s Law because it’s named after a California victim, stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend. Just a week after Marsy was murdered, her mother was confronted by Marcy’s accused killer in the grocery store. She didn’t know he had been released on bail.

This prompted victims’ rights to be added to California’s constitution. Several other states have done the same and this election states like Georgia and Kentucky have Marsy’s Law on voters’ ballots.

That’s actually one reason Gainesville state attorney of the Eighth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Bill Cervone is advocating against the amendment’s passage. He wrote about it in a recent op-ed.

He calls it a “concerted, well-funded personal agenda coming from folks from out of state.”

He said most fundamental in his opposition is he doesn’t believe it serves any real purpose that doesn’t already exist in Florida law, which is where he believes these types of rights should stay.

State statutes can be tweaked, removed or added by lawmakers every year.

“The constitution, It is very difficult to change or amend or even repeal it,” he said.

He also argues, the amendment would infringe on defendants’ rights. The amendment does strike the phrase “to the extent that these rights do not interfere with the constitutional rights of the accused.”

Cervone said he’s concerned with the amendment adding appeals deadlines, two years in non-capital cases and five years in capital cases. He says those timeframes are short in the legal world.

He also argues that timeframe would be “impossible” under the currently-funded positions at the appellate level for judges and lawyers to keep up.

“[It] sets up expectations that anybody who functions in the system now knows cannot be met and I think it to be fundamentally wrong to mislead victims or the public into to thinking that all of a sudden they’re going to have them,” Cervone said.

Overall, he thinks Marsy’s Law tilts the balance too far in victims’ favor.  

“The reason victims do not control a criminal prosecution is that the prosecution must be emotionless. Must consider all sides of the issue including what you need to do to best punish the defendant while still  best protecting society,” he said.

Corporations’ Rights

The American Civil Liberties Union also opposes Amendment 6, saying in part because it extends victims’ rights to corporations.

“In other words, you can now have corporations coming into criminal proceedings with high priced lawyers trying to dictate how the criminal justice process should go,” Melba Pearson, Deputy Director for the ACLU of Florida said in an interview with our partner WLRN.

But attorney Tim Cerio who was part of the constitution revision commission responsible for putting Amendment 6 on the ballot, said to WLRN, a corporation could also mean a small mom and pop business.

“My in-laws owned an independent pharmacy in Sarasota. They were robbed at least a dozen times in 20 years,” he said. “And if Marcy's Law did not allow ... these entities that are incorporated to be treated as victims they would have no ability to participate or to be informed.“

Bundling

Amendment 6 addresses more than just victims’ rights. It poses other questions to voters. Its passage would also up the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75 and require judges to interpret laws themselves rather than rely on state agencies’ interpretations of them.

Unlike Cervone, 13 other Florida prosecutors, current and former, are supporters of Amendment 6 along with a bipartisan group of lawmakers.  

The amendment needs 60 percent approval to pass.  Election day is Nov 6.

Reporter Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at lkilbride@wjct.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.