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Marsy's Law will help crime victims

Guest column

POSTED: January 12, 2018 6:30 p.m.
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Kay Godwin is co-chair of Georgia Conservatives in Action.

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When a violent crime occurs in Georgia, the public hears the story of the perpetrator in the local news. However, in the aftermath, victims and their families receive little attention, if any, as they deal with the criminal justice process — traumatized, frightened and with fewer rights than the criminals who harmed them.

The U.S. and Georgia constitutions provide rights to the accused and the convicted in criminal cases, but none to the victims. Georgia is one of only 15 states that do not give victims constitutional protections, though it has provided multiple statutory rights for victims since 2010. That law has worked smoothly, and now is the time to take the next step by enacting permanent, enforceable rights guaranteed by the state constitution.

That’s exactly what Marsy’s Law for Georgia would deliver, and that’s why Georgia Conservatives in Action, which I co-chair, is working to get it passed.

We can all agree rapists shouldn’t have more rights than their victims. Murderers shouldn’t be more protected than their victims’ families. And with some victims’ rights in state law, we’ve proven that we can service the needs of victims effectively without putting an undue burden on the criminal justice system.

In the 2017 legislative session of the Georgia General Assembly, the state Senate passed Marsy’s Law by an overwhelming margin. The state House will consider it in 2018. If it receives the required two-thirds majority, voters will decide at the next election whether to add it to the state constitution.

Marsy’s Law is named after Marsy Nicholas, a California college student who was stalked and murdered in 1983 by her ex-boyfriend. Only a week after she was murdered, after visiting her grave, Marsy’s mother and brother, Henry T. Nicholas, walked in a grocery store and the accused murderer confronted them. Until that moment, the family had no idea he had been released on bail. He remained free on bail until his conviction.

Dr. Nicholas made it his mission to give victims and their families across the country constitutional protections and equal rights, including information on hearings, restitution and other protections. Last year, voters in Illinois approved Marsy’s Law with 78 percent of the vote.

With more than 500 murders, 2,500 rapes and 20,000 aggravated assaults committed in a single year, hundreds of Georgians suffer at the hands of criminals every day. We must do more to protect these victims and their families on their journey to justice and healing.

Marsy’s Law for Georgia would give victims:

• The right to receive information about their rights and the services available to them.

• The right to receive notification of proceedings and major developments in the criminal case.

• The right to receive timely notification of changes to the offender’s custodial status.

• The right to be present at court proceedings and provide input to the prosecutor before a plea agreement is finalized.

• The right to be heard at plea or sentencing proceedings or any processes that might result in the offender’s release.

• The right to restitution.

As other states have shown, constitutional protections for victims do not diminish those for the accused. They simply give Georgia victims and their families equal standing.

Passing the Marsy’s Law for Georgia is a commonsense change that will benefit people across our state. This bipartisan issue concerning the safety of all Georgians and the basic rights of those who have been wronged. Together with legislators and victims’ advocates, we’re working to get the votes we need in the House to get this on the ballot in 2018.

Call or write your representative and demand that victims’ rights are just as strong as those that protect the accused and convicted.

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