The tragic and compelling story of Marsalee (Marsy) Nicholas provides a centerpiece for proposed Constitutional Amendment 6, which would, among other things, require Florida’s legal system to safeguard the rights of family members of crime victims.
Marsy Nicholas, according to a Marsy’s Law website, was stalked and killed in 1983. A week after her death her brother and mother entered a grocery store and were confronted by the ex-boyfriend who stood accused of murdering her. Marsy’s family had not been told the ex-boyfriend had been released on bail.
The family “was not informed because the courts and law enforcement, though well-meaning, had no obligation to keep her informed,” the website states. “While criminals have more than 20 individual rights spelled out in the U.S. Constitution, the surviving family members of murder victims have none.”
If Amendment 6 receives a 60 percent voter mandate Nov. 6, Florida will join at least five other states in compelling the courts to “consider the safety of victims and families when setting bail and release conditions.”
Along with the safety precautions added under Marcy’s Law, crime victim families and representatives will also be granted rights to due process and a right to be free from intimidation or harassment, the website said.
Other victim rights, outlined in the Florida Bar Journal, include the right to prevent the disclosure of information about victims or their families and the right to be notified about all stages of the criminal process regarding the defendant, including trials, pleas, sentencing, release, escape and parole.
Victims would have the right to be heard at each stage of the defendant’s sentencing or potential release and to participate in pre-sentence reports and get copies of those reports, the Bar Journal said. Under the amendment proposal victims would also have the right to demand prompt and full restitution.
Amendment 6 would also bar the state’s courts from deferring to an administrative agency’s interpretation of a state statute or rule in lawsuits, the Bar Journal reported.
A doctrine of judicial deference was established by the Florida Supreme Court in 1952. It basically states that the way a particular agency interprets a statute or regulation should be given great weight by the court.
“The effect of this doctrine is to allow the executive branch to exercise the powers of the judiciary, thereby eroding the independence of the judiciary, by requiring a court to accept the agency’s interpretation of a state statute except under very limited circumstances,” the Bar Journal reported. “The doctrine also, in effect, announces before the proceeding even starts that the court will defer to one of the parties, and not just any party, but the most powerful of all parties — the government — as to what the law is.”
A CRC Executive Committee analysis found the Florida Supreme Court had “shown a substantial deference” over the years to the interpretation of various agencies.
Amendment 6 proposes to “prohibit a state court or administrative hearing officer from deferring to an administrative agency’s interpretation of a state statute or rule and instead requires the interpretation to be de novo, as a court is required to do when it reviews matters of law,” the Bar Journal said.
The final question voters will be asked when deciding whether to favor or oppose Amendment 6 is whether the state should extend the required retirement age for judges from 70 to 75.
The mandatory retirement age for judges was initially established in 1956, when the average life expectancy was much lower. Under Amendment 6 an exemption that allows judges to serve past the mandatory age if they have completed more than half of a four-year term would be eliminated.
“The ultimate objective of this proposal is to retain experienced and knowledgeable judges, keeping in mind that no other elected office has a mandatory retirement age,” the Bar Journal said.