The U.S. Constitution enumerates 20 distinct rights for those accused or convicted of a crime, but when it comes to crime victims’ rights, the document that guides the supreme law of the United States is silent. To rectify that disparity, individual states have added victims’ rights and protections into their state constitutions. Unfortunately, Florida is one of only 15 states with no clear, enforceable constitutional rights for victims or their families when there has been a tragic loss of life.
What Florida currently offers victims is weak, ambiguous and easily overturned. The one sentence in the Florida Constitution is so vague that it can be interpreted a multitude of different ways. Victims’ rights in statute can be altered through the annual legislative process and are only as secure as the current legislature protecting them.
Enshrining victims’ rights in our state’s most powerful legal document elevates those rights to the same level as the federal constitutional rights the accused and convicted are already provided. It sends a message that victims’ rights must be viewed as equal in the eyes of the court and protected in just the same way we would protect a defendant’s rights. And, it makes these rights infinitely more enforceable.
What Amendment 6/Marsy’s Law for Florida seeks to do is provide victims with rights that are the same as those provided to the accused and convicted – no more, no less. It would not diminish the rights of the defendant in any way. Under Amendment 6/Marsy’s Law for Florida, defendants maintain all the same rights they have always had, as they should.
Amendment 6/Marsy’s Law for Florida simply expands the rights for victims without harming the interests of the accused or convicted. It would provide victims with a right to be noticed of court proceedings – something defendants already receive. It would provide victims with the right to make a statement at a sentencing hearing – again, something defendants can already do or have someone else do on their behalf.
It doesn’t take anything away from the defendant. It simply gives the victim one thing they deserve: a voice.
These are compassionate, commonsense rights and protections that we can easily incorporate into our criminal justice system. In fact, many of these rights and protections are already in Florida law, but in reality, aren’t being consistently provided and there is no mechanism for enforcing their provision.
We have real-world experience with Marsy’s Law in other states where similar versions have been enacted. In those states, there has been minimal to no fiscal impacts and no flood of lawsuits or court backlogs. Instead, what we have seen in an improvement to the overall delivery of justice.
I think we can all agree that a rapist should not have more rights than the person he or she raped. A murderer should not have more rights than the family the murder victim left behind.
Victims were thrust into the criminal justice system through no fault of their own. They didn’t ask to suffer the traumas that led them to that courtroom. All Amendment 6/Marsy’s Law for Florida would do is ensure victims have the right to be heard and that they are treated with dignity and respect along the way.
Greg Ungru is the State Director of Marsy’s Law for Florida.