Roger Kaseman: Marsy's Law Is A Bad Idea From Good People

marsy's law

I served as a Deputy Sheriff/Deputy Coroner/Senior Investigator in California. I have 16 years’ experience investigating homicides. The jurisdiction that employed me averaged 100 homicides, 350 to 400 suicides, and 400 traffic deaths every year. I am thoroughly familiar with murder victims. I use the term survivor in the same way the word is used in an obituary; people related to the subject of the obituary.

Every law enforcement officer that deals with violent death has to develop an emotional detachment from the bewilderment, frustration, and anger common to the relatives of murder victims. I had to develop that emotional detachment; it was a matter of keeping my mental health intact. Emotion normal to the brutality of my occupation could not override reasoned and clearheaded judgement. It was a day by day battle, sometimes minute by minute.

While emotional detachment is necessary for a law enforcement officer dealing with death, it isn’t expected from the victim’s family and friends. To expect reasoned judgement from people that lost a loved one to murder, is unnatural. Surviving family members are driven by the need for retribution.

Based on my experience investigating murders and dealing with the survivors of those victims, I dissected the possibilities, probabilities, and unintended consequences of the proposed constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]Injecting survivor emotion into an investigation and ensuing court proceedings runs a high risk of emotional bias tainting law enforcement and judicial officers, and subsequently, tainting the outcome of the trial. [/mks_pullquote]

Marsy’s Law expands the definition of “victim” to broad and illogical levels. The proposed amendment defines a “victim” as, “…. a person who suffers direct or threatened physical, psychological, or financial harm as a result of the commission or attempted commission of a crime….”.

With wording that broad, victimhood spirals out of control. If a classmate or co-worker suffers psychological effects, like sadness or mourning, that individual falls into the defined “victim” class under the broad psychological classification that Marcy’s Law creates.

If a business owner suffers financial loss due to the murder of an employee, under the broad definition of victimhood created by Marsy’s Law, that business owner qualifies as a “victim” under the new law.

Not all survivors are good people and honest citizens. The treatment of survivors must hinge on the character of the individual survivor and the discretion of the law enforcement officers and judges that investigate and adjudicate each individual case.

Consider the following from my personal experience.

Two drug dealers waging a turf war accidentally met in the parking lot of a night club in South Sacramento. They both opened fire. One died at the scene, the other was wounded but survived. The father of the dead drug dealer was serving life for a series of drug related murders. He would qualify for all the immunities and privileges established by Marcy’s Law. The dead dealer’s mother died of a drug overdose. The brother of the dead dealer had a rap sheet that included assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder. He spent of his teen years locked up in California Youth Authority. A violent criminal like the father and son I just described qualify as “victims” under Marcy’s Law. This case was not an outlier; every drug deal or criminal enterprise that ends in gunfire, has survivors.

Murder is seldom clear cut. Husband kills wife, or wife kills husband. Wife decides she doesn’t want a messy divorce and with an eye on her husband’s life insurance policy, decides to divorce him with a case of dynamite. Those are actual cases that I investigated. The psychological and sociological neurosis in cases like that run deep and are in place long before the killer pulls the trigger or sets off the dynamite. If passed, Marcy’s Law will cripple law enforcement’s ability to deal with  those types of “victims” by removing enforcement and judicial discretion.

Not all survivors are criminals; most are good people. Marcy’s Law removes the discretion investigators need to distinguish the good from the bad, and to deal with the survivors in an appropriate manner. Injecting survivor emotion into an investigation and ensuing court proceedings runs a high risk of emotional bias tainting law enforcement and judicial officers, and subsequently, tainting the outcome of the trial. Marsy’s Law removes discretion and replaces it with the grave disability of emotion.

As the debate on Marcy’s law ramps up, voters should keep in mind that Century Code chapters 12.1-34 and 12.1-35, address every issue in the proposed constitutional amendment, with one exception: discretion on the part of law enforcement and the judicial system. The Century Code recognizes the need for discretion. The sponsors of Marsy’s Law are open about wanting to remove discretion from law enforcement officers, the courts, and the corrections system.

The people sponsoring the measure are good people, with good intentions, but their end is misguided; there will be unintended consequences that the authors of the measure failed to consider when they wrote the text of the measure.