North Carolina Victims Deserve A Vote For Marsy's Law
Members of the North Carolina General Assembly are working through the 2018 legislative session, wrapping up work on various budget issues and taking up policy issues facing the state. One important policy issue the legislature is considering includes a constitutional amendment to strengthen victims’ rights - called Marsy’s Law.
It will give equal rights to victims of crime in the state constitution - rights that are already given to the accused and convicted. Rights associated with Marsy’s Law include giving victims the right to speak - or be heard - during court proceedings like bail hearings or sentencings. It also will ensure that victims are notified when the accused and convicted have a change in custody status - including being let out of prison or escaping. If passed by ⅗ of both chamber - Marsy's Law will be on the November 2018 ballot for voters to decide.
Right now these rights are not guaranteed to North Carolina victims by law. While some victims are included in court proceedings and notified - it varies depending on where they live in the state. Some counties and DA offices are proactive in these details, and some are not. Marsy’s Law legislation would ensure that victims of crime are treated with the same dignity and respect regardless of jurisdiction or county. It will fill in the gaps in our current system.
Marsy’s Law has been vetted and debated for more than a year in North Carolina - the campaign kicked off in April of 2017, followed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote in the state House. Since that time, communities and local law enforcement around the state have spoken out in favor of Marsy’s Law: 50 local town and county resolutions from all over the state and almost sixty percent of the state’s individual sheriffs - Republican and Democrat - endorse Marsy’s Law.
But it is not without debate, as there should be to take on such an important cause:
Is a constitutional amendment really needed? Amending the state’s constitution should never be taken lightly, but reserving this level of law for a cause as important as equal rights for victims is - by many measures - the appropriate time to amend the constitution. While there are currently statutory rights in North Carolina law for victims of crime - constitutional rights are simply a stronger guarantee, and one that victims and their families deserve.
Will it be too costly for the state? 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. And while there may be some small additional burden or cost associated with providing notice to victims regarding custody status of the accused or important court events affecting them - shouldn't we be doing this already for North Carolina's crime victims?
Does this take away from the rights of the accused? Marsy’s Law does not and is not intended to negatively impact the rights of the accused or convicted. It simply elevates victims to the same level in the constitution. Establishing “co-equal” rights for victims alongside the accused - in the state constitution - is the goal of the North Carolina effort.
We’ve all seen the imagery of the justice system striking a balanced scale, indicating that all sides are given equal treatment. And yet, today, the state’s victims of crime and their families - North Carolina’s most vulnerable citizens - are not on equal footing as those who are accused of committing the crimes from the very start. North Carolina’s crime victims deserve dignity and respect while seeking justice. They deserve constitutional level protections that stronger victims rights will afford them through Marsy’s Law.