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Marsy's Law Constitutional Amendment Dies in N.H. House

Jason Moon for NHPR
Advocates made their presence known outside the N.H. State House on April 26, 2018.

A proposed constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law failed in the New Hampshire House of Representatives on Thursday, despite a well-organized and well-financed effort by supporters.

The amendment would have created a list of constitutional rights designed to give crime victims a greater say in the court system. 

It passed overwhelmingly in the Senate and had backing of Governor Chris Sununu.

But the House killed the amendment in a lopsided vote: 284-51.

Republican Representative Claire Rouillard was among those who argued the amendment could have  unintended consequences for the criminal justice system.

"This CACR is not right for the citizens," said Rouillard. "The words are unclear, the consequences immense."

Meanwhile, Democratic state Representative Paul Berch took aim at Marsy's Law benefactor Henry Nicholas. Berch compared the California tech billionaire, who has financed Marsy’s Law campaigns in several states, to the Wizard of Oz.

“What the gentleman from California would have found if he had stepped out from behind his curtain," said Berch, "is an ambiguous, poorly drafted, and in some parts contradictory constitutional amendment.”

Marsy's Law for New Hampshire State Director Amanda Grady Sexton said the group was prepared to spend millions of dollars to promote the amendment had it gone to voters this November.

Democratic Representative Debra Altschiller argued that current rights for victims, which are enshrined in state statute, are not strong enough.

"They shouldn't have to rely on the generosity of spirit of prosecutors and they shouldn't have to rely on just the empathy of judges," said Altschiller. "Victims should have constitutionally protected rights."

The New Hampshire Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, which was closely affiliated with the Marsy's Law for New Hampshire campaign, says it will continue to fight for constitutional rights for victims.

The vote is also a setback for Sununu, who was a strong supporter of the amendment. In a statement Sununu said, "I've spent too much time with victims and their families to know that New Hampshire has missed an incredible opportunity to do what's right.”

Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.
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