Constitutional Level Rights for Victims are Important
There has been a lot of attention focused on the slate of six constitutional amendments that North Carolina voters will consider on November 6. Partisan controversy has swirled around the package - but one of the amendments deserves consideration outside of the group. Victims’ rights should not be dragged into the partisan rancor.
In order to simplify the anti-amendment message, the amendment that gives victims of crime guaranteed rights in the constitution has unfortunately been lumped into the group - ironically a victim of circumstance.
When pressed about the need to oppose this amendment, the response is typically that it is not necessary, that victims in North Carolina already have enough rights. Nothing could be further from the reality.
While it is true that North Carolina already lists some rights for victims of crime in the constitution, those rights are limited and do not carry an enforcement provision. That means that victims whose rights are violated have no recourse under current laws.
Some have argued that changes can simply be made through additional laws - and changing the constitution is not needed. However, that means inequity remains for victims. Consider that the rights of the accused and defendants are in the constitution today, but the rights of victims remain in statute - meaning that the accused and defendants currently hold more rights than their victims.
The victims’ rights amendment, known as Marsy’s Law, will allow victims of crime to be seen as equals in the criminal justice system. The victims’ rights amendment will give victims a voice in the process and keep them informed. They will know when the offender is released. They will know what pretrial release conditions have been placed on the defendant. They will be allowed to speak in hearings if they choose. In other words, victims will be central, not peripheral, to the process.
Becoming a victim of crime is a life-altering event. The best way victims pull their lives together again is to get support and information early, and throughout the criminal process, and to feel that their voices will be heard. Amending the state constitution should never be taken lightly, and reserving it for a cause as important as granting North Carolina’s crime victims equal rights is the right time to vote for such an amendment.