RALEIGH, N.C. — Victims' rights advocates gathered Wednesday in downtown Raleigh to honor the survivors and family members of those killed while also pushing for action to help them.
The group met at the Crime Victims Memorial Garden on East Lane Street, across from the Legislative Building, to talk about proposed changes to state law to better protect victims and their families.
They plan to lobby lawmakers for House Bill 551, a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would outline basic rights for crime victims, including requiring courts to notify victims' families of hearings and allowing victims to protect the disclosure of private information and get restitution from defendants.
The legislation, often called Marsy's Law after a California student who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983, passed the North Carolina House a year ago but remains bottled up in the Senate.
The victims’ rights movement is gaining momentum across the country with five states this fall set to vote on strengthening victims’ rights in their state constitutions. The legislation - known as Marsy’s Law - originally passed in California in 2008 followed by Illinois and the Dakotas. Last fall, it also passed overwhelmingly in Ohio.
It is currently being considered and debated in North Carolina’s General Assembly where it already passed the House during the last session in a bipartisan vote. The state Senate is expected to consider it during this year’s session.
The victims’ rights campaign is focused on states where the rights are not currently at equal levels in state constitutions as the accused and convicted. While North Carolina does have some laws and language on behalf of victims - it’s not starting from scratch for victims’ protections - state law simply doesn’t go far enough to ensure equal protections are applied to victims and their families consistently in every community.
The Marsy’s Law campaign seeks to make equal rights protections guaranteed to all citizens of North Carolina - regardless of a victim’s residence - city, county or town; their status - poor or affluent; or location in the state - urban or rural in the mountains or on the coast.
And yet, crime victims - people who were harmed by the actions of others and are completely innocent in their plight - are not given priority in society. In North Carolina today, crime victims are still not guaranteed notification when the accused is released from prison or always given the right to choose to speak during a bail hearing or plea agreement.
Sadly, there are those who don’t think victims should be given stronger and equal rights. Opposition from sources including defense lawyer associations and some in academics have been speaking out against granting victims of crime equal constitutional rights. A recent New Yorker article on the topic quoted a professor from the University of North Carolina saying among other things that the current victims’ rights movement was an “attack” on “expertise and on the notion of a public good.”
It’s unfortunate that there will always be people who believe victims of crime should not have equal protections as their offenders. According to their arguments, these critics must also believe that:
- the mother who was shot on her front porch - with her child inside the house- didn’t deserve to know that the accused was released from jail causing her to move with her child to another state out of fear;
- it was okay for a father who lost his son to murder to have to call and ask to meet with the DA to get information about the crime and then find out that the accused was released from prison a month later due to lack of evidence;
- another bereaved father was not notified that his son’s convicted murderer was moved to a prison closer to the scene of the crime at a lower security level and only found out when he called to check on the custody status of the convicted.
These are not theoretical stories for discussion, nor are they part of a policy debate. They are a small sampling of North Carolinians enduring ongoing suffering, fear, and indignities as a result of crime - highlighting why victims deserve guaranteed equal rights.
Victimization is not an accident, it’s not a result of negligence or chance, it is the proactive result of one person choosing to harm another. To equate standing up for those most vulnerable members of society, victims of crime, as an "attack" on the perception of a public good demonstrates exactly why victims’ rights need promotion in the first place.
North Carolina in May brings warmer weather, azaleas and dogwoods and longer, often sun-filled days - a welcomed shift from a long and cold winter season. The turn of the calendar also brings the year’s political season - first primary elections followed by the 2018 legislative session. The North Carolina General Assembly convenes in mid-May to consider dozens of critical issues that are facing the state ranging from budget allocations for healthcare and education to environmental policies and constitutional amendments.
One of the important issues being considered is a constitutional amendment to strengthen rights for victims of crime. North Carolina is currently one of about 15 states that do not have constitutional level protections for victims of crime - including the right to have notification when the accused is released from prison or has a bail hearing; or the right to be heard during a trial or sentencing.
It’s common sense that a victim of crime be given at least the same rights as the attacker - but sadly, it is not currently state law. Marsy’s Law would make equal constitutional level rights for victims of crime statewide law. It’s not a partisan issue - Republicans and Democrats have reached across political lines to support this legislation. Last session, it passed the state House in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote. It can be considered as early as this month by the state’s Senate and then sent to voters statewide to consider it in the state constitution.
To-date, almost 45 local communities - towns and counties - have voted on proclamations in favor of Marsy’s Law. More than 60 of the state’s sheriffs - Republicans and Democrats - individually support the law. Voters in Ohio passed similar legislation last November by more than 80 percent and it’s on the ballot in four states already this year.
North Carolina victims deserve equal rights in the state constitution. The time is now; the momentum is building - urge the General Assembly to move forward with this important cause during this year’s legislative session.
North Carolina Counties and Towns Continue to Pass Resolutions in Support of Stronger Victims’ Rights
To-date, 42 local communities have passed resolutions in support of legislation in the General Assembly that will strengthen victims' rights in North Carolina. In April, two more counties - Stokes and Lee; and two more towns, Rockwell and China Grove - passed resolutions urging the Legislature to pass the victims' rights bill known as Marsy's Law during the upcoming May Legislative session.
“The Town of Rockwell is proud to support Marsy's Law. We encourage all of our citizens to join in this commitment to protect the rights of North Carolina crime victims," said Rockwell Mayor Beauford Taylor.
“Criminals’ rights should never trump a victim's rights, otherwise there is no real justice,” said Stokes County Commissioner Ronda Jones.
Last session, the state House passed House Bill 551, Marsy’s Law, with an overwhelming bipartisan vote. The bill would give victims of crime important rights like notification of the custody of the accused and the right to be heard during a court proceeding like a sentencing or bail hearing. It can be considered by the Senate as early as this May’s legislative session and, if it passes, will be sent to North Carolina voters to decide as early as next November.
For a list of Marsy’s Law NC current endorsements, visit: http://nc.marsyslaw.us/endorsements
Across the nation, the second week of April 2018 was designated Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Citizens, friends and family members who have suffered from crime - often violent and always against their will - were recognized throughout the week with the color purple.
The week is a place in time where communities, students, governments and law enforcement were asked to reflect upon what victims of crime endured from the actual crime and its aftermath - touching their friends and families in personal and permanent ways.
In North Carolina, the campaign to strengthen victims’ rights in the state constitution, Marsy’s Law for NC, participated in a number of ways ranging from urging elected officials statewide to support for victims’ rights legislation in the state constitution to participating in important events like the NC Victims’ Assistance Network ceremony. The NCVAN event served as a gathering for advocates to hear first-hand from a woman who lost her sister to homicide on a college campus. Through her tears, she shared the daily devastation that is a constant reminder of the crime. She shared how her own children are forever changed; fearful as they grow older and start their own lives as they relive the horror of their loved one’s murder every day. She highlighted that homicide does not just impact the victim, but the family and the community left behind.
The annual week is an opportunity to reflect on the very human and personal aftermath of crime. For the Marsy’s Law campaign, it’s also a time to remind elected officials and voters about the important legislation that will strengthen victims’ rights statewide giving victims of crime guaranteed rights in the constitution just as the accused and convicted are already afforded.
The state’s General Assembly has the opportunity to consider the legislation in the upcoming May session - that would then send it to voters to decide. Important rights like notification of custody of the accused and allowing victims - if they choose - to be part of parole or sentencing hearings.
North Carolina’s victims of crime deserve this guarantee in the state constitution - giving them the dignity and respect they deserve during Crime Victims Rights Week and throughout the year.
Western North Carolina Counties, Burke, and Ashe, recently voted in favor of strengthening victims’ rights in the state constitution.
These two counties join the growing number of North Carolina communities – more than 35 to-date – that have passed proclamations supporting Marsy’s Law for North Carolina. Marsy’s Law is legislation, known as House Bill 551, that will give an equal level of rights in the state constitution to victims of crime that are already given to the accused and convicted. Rights that include notification of custody status of the accused or even being included and heard during court proceedings like plea deals or sentencing proceedings.
The bill has overwhelmingly passed the North Carolina state House and could be considered in the state’s Senate as early as Spring 2018. Once it passes both chambers of the legislature it will then be sent to voters to consider as early as the 2018 election cycle.
It’s common sense that a victim of crime be given at least the same rights as their attacker – and Marsy’s Law would make that guaranteed by state law.
For a list of Marsy’s Law NC current endorsements, visit: http://nc.marsyslaw.us/endorsements
Unlike many partisan issues that politicians spar over in legislative environments, victims’ rights is an issue that draws support regardless of political affiliation. Marsy’s Law, known as HB 551, has gained support across the state from communities, elected officials, and organizations from every background. The legislation seeks to strengthen victims’ rights laws statewide by giving enforceable protections to victims of crimes – rights like being heard in court proceedings and notified when the accused or convicted change
The majority of North Carolina voters, eight in ten, across the political divide support amending the state’s constitution to give victims of crime stronger rights according to a survey of state voters. During the last legislative session, state House Republicans and Democrats joined forces and voted in overwhelming favor of the amendment that would send it to voters to decide. The state Senate could consider the legislation as early as this spring.
Following the trend, both of the state’s major political party college chapters – College Democrats and Republicans – have recently endorsed Marsy’s Law, giving their support to the important cause.
“In such a rapidly developing time and world, there are most certainly challenges that we face. In a world where everyday brings new fears and new hurdles, we should expect our leaders to take on that challenge straight ahead. The College Democrats of North Carolina have the gall to realize that in a dangerous world we need laws to restore hope and we need to right our wrongs. For those reasons, we are fully endorsing the passage of Marsy’s Law in North Carolina and call on the NC Legislative leaders to protect and extend victims’ rights across our 100 counties. For far too long many people made victim by violent crime have sat alone and afraid, but with the passage of Marsy’s Law we stand with them and invoke a fearlessness in the eyes of this challenge.”
– John Carry Easterling III, President of College Democrats of North Carolina
“The North Carolina Federation of College Republicans is proud to endorse Marsy’s Law in North Carolina. Marsy’s Law would establish common sense victims’ rights which are desperately needed.”
– Garrett White, Chairman of North Carolina Federation of College Republicans