FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP/WKYT) - A judge has ordered election officials in Kentucky not to certify the results of an upcoming referendum on whether to change the state's constitution to guarantee the rights of crime victims.
Kentucky is one of six states scheduled to vote on "Marsy's Law," a proposed constitutional amendment to guarantee crime victims similar rights as those accused of crimes in the judicial system. The effort's named after a California college student killed in the 1980s.
After hearing oral arguments last week, Franklin Circuit Judge Thomas Wingate ruled Monday the ballot question isn't worded sufficiently to inform people of what they're voting on.
The ruling means Kentucky voters will still cast ballots on the question, and election officials can count them. But the judge has ordered officials not to certify the results until after appellate courts have ruled.
In a statement released Monday afternoon, Marsy's Law for Kentucky said the organization is disappointed and they will immediately appeal the decision to the court of appeals.
"To be clear, this ruling was not against the substance of Marsy's Law, but rather the specific language that will appear on the ballot," the statement reads. "Marsy's Law has received widespread support from victims' advocates, public officials, law enforcement officers and individuals across Kentucky. Clearly, Kentuckians want the opportunity to vote to ensure victims are afforded the equal rights they deserve.
"Furthermore, it is an affront to all victims that the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers would wait until the eleventh hour, just before the election, to put forward this unnecessary lawsuit," the statement concludes. "Crime victims in Kentucky deserve to be treated with the dignity and respect Marsy's Law will provide."
Louisville attorney R. Kenyon Meyer, who is representing the Kentucky Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which filed the lawsuit against Marsy's Law, told our news partners at the Lexington Herald-Leader that his clients "are pleased with the well-reasoned opinion of the court."
"Before our Constitution can be changed, the voters should be fully informed about the content of a proposed amendment before they vote," Meyer said, according to the Herald-Leader.
Alex Otte, an advocate for Marsy's Law because of her experience in the court system as a teenage victim after being hit by a drunken boater while she sat on a jet ski, said her disbelief about the judge's decision quickly turned to heartbreak, but she hopes the obstacle just results in more support for the amendment.
"Here, offenders have rights and victims don't," Otte told WKYT's Garrett Wymer. "I would love to say that I was the last victim, but I'm not. It's going to keep happening, and this is the legislation that would help people and support people in the future."
Senator Whitney Westerfield, R-Crofton, who sponsored SB 3/Marsy's Law, said he disagrees with the ruling and will seek transfer of the appeal directly to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
"I have worked tirelessly to elevate the voice of crime victims within the criminal justice system as a constitutional right, and I am steadfastly committed to this cause regardless of today's ruling," Sen. Westerfield said in a statement. "I remain confident that SB 3 will be incorporated into the Kentucky Constitution by the voters of the Commonwealth."