Frequently Asked Questions
Some opponents say this amendment is not needed, that North Carolina already provides rights for victims of crime?Question
The victims’ rights amendment, known as Marsy’s Law, is a bipartisan victims’ rights initiative that seeks to amend state constitutions like North Carolina that do not currently guarantee enforceable protections to every county in the state. It will give victims of crimes equal rights in the state Constitution that are already given to the accused and convicted.
There are already 35 states that have some form of victims’ rights in their constitution, including California, Illinois, North and South Dakota and Ohio which all passed Marsy’s Law in recent years. North Carolina is one of six additional states it will be voted on in November 2018.
This victims’ rights amendment will ensure that North Carolinians who suffer - against their will - at the hands of criminals are informed when their assailants are let out of jail and allowed to be a part of the court proceedings if they choose. Currently, defendants in North Carolina have a greater status in the state’s constitution than crime victims.
The victims’ rights amendment will focus on crimes against a person by granting Constitutional level rights like being informed about and being allowed to speak in certain court proceedings such as bail hearings and plea agreements; and being notified when the accused has a change in custody or is released from prison.
It guarantees equal rights to crime victims in a number of important ways including:
- informing victims and their families about their rights and the services available to them,
- giving them the right to receive notification of proceedings and major developments in a criminal case,
- protecting their safety by notifying them in a timely manner regarding changes to the offender’s custodial status, and
- allowing victims and their families to exercise their right to be present - and heard - at court proceedings.
While there are some rights for crime victims in the Constitution, they are limited to statute, and do not carry an enforcement provision - meaning victims do not currently have any recourse when their rights are violated. Simply put, if the rights of victims are found in statute and the rights of the accused and defendants are found in the Constitution, defendants rights will always carry more weight than those of the victims.
The current protections adopted 20 years ago for victims were a good start, but there are gaps in victim protections - they are not always consistently applied from county to county and regionally. This amendment will provide specific, uniform, and enforceable rights statewide so that victims are guaranteed to receive the same rights that those who are accused and convicted have. Under Marsy's Law, victims of crime will also have their rights in the Constitution - and not be subject to changing legislative laws, guaranteeing them stronger rights than they have today.
No, the victims’ rights amendment is not a package with the other five amendments on the November ballot. And it is very different - having been vetted and debated for more than a year to pass with an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote in the General Assembly last June.
The North Carolina campaign kicked off in the spring of 2017 and was sponsored by Republican and Democratic legislators who worked with the Marsy’s Law team for more than a year to customize North Carolina-specific language with stakeholders from law enforcement and the court system. More than 150 Democrats and Republicans joined together and voted yes for the victims’ rights amendment - including leadership in both parties. It also has been endorsed by 60 percent of the state’s sheriffs - representing both parties- the state Democrat and Republican college groups, the NC Victims Assistance Network and more than 50 local communities - towns and counties - have passed resolutions in favor of strengthening victims’ rights in the state Constitution.
This amendment takes nothing away from the rights of the accused. In fact, this amendment does not and is not intended to negatively impact the rights of the accused or convicted and will take nothing away from the current Constitutional rights criminal defendants have to access fair trials and due process. Marsy’s Law simply elevates victims to the same level in the Constitution, establishing “co-equal” rights for victims alongside the accused.
There has been some speculation about cost, but it is not grounded in any factual evidence. Based on comparisons to other states that have history implementing similar Marsy's Law legislation, like Illinois and California, there has been no indication of significant increased costs - and neither state has needed to allocate specific funding for implementation. Updated North Carolina fiscal notes were part of the legislative debate and suggest that there may be some small cost to the state to upgrade notification.
Many prosecutor's offices in North Carolina already have ways and technology in place to provide victims with notice and information. While Marsy’s Law may add a few responsibilities to DA’s and others in the court system, other than notice, there is little or no cost involved in the rights being proposed. Many elected officials and citizens agree that we should already be doing this for North Carolina's crime victims and their families.
Legal experts believe that notifying victims and allowing them to be participants in the process will not significantly delay court proceedings. In those cases where victims have opted in to get notice, they may be heard briefly in a hearing to determine the conditions of release - but they have also historically been necessary witnesses in most cases and are often called to testify in trials.
The case is now, and will be, between the State and the defendant, and the DA will continue to make decisions about how and when the case will be resolved. This law also specifically says that it does not change the authority of the District Attorney. The victim will not be a party, but recognized as more than a bystander. The victim will not be able to veto or override the decision of the constitutionally empowered District Attorney, whose job it is - now and under the proposed amendment - to balance all of the competing interests. Marsy’s Law will ensure that these rights are guaranteed to victims and their families.