Georgia voters have an opportunity in the upcoming election to stand up for the victims of crime.
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 14 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.
It’s the “enforceable” part that brings the important change. Without the constitutional right, victims have no recourse if their rights are ignored by the judicial system. Marsy’s Law gives them standing to demand their rights are enforced, and that’s why I’m voting for it and encourage my friends here in Newton County to do the same.
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.
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.
The crime victims that have championed this amendment tell harrowing stories that demonstrate why they need constitutional rights. Many of them were hunted down and revictimized by their abusers who were released from custody without their knowledge. Others are families of murder victims who weren’t told their loved one’s killer was up for parole or was let go by an appeals court. One found out that her son’s killer was wrongly released when she saw him posting on Facebook.
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.
Stronger rights for crime victims is one of the few issues today where you’ll see both Republicans and Democrats agree. In order for this constitutional amendment to get on the ballot, it needed approval from at least two-thirds of both the state House and Senate. That’s a purposefully high bar and many amendments fail to get over the finish line. Marsy’s Law, however, passed both houses unanimously this year. That’s extraordinarily rare and points to the overwhelming and bipartisan support this legislation has received.
Now, Marsy’s Law for Georgia only needs a majority from Georgia voters this November to become part of our state constitution. I know the people of this community wouldn’t hesitate to help innocent victims in a time of need, and there’s no easier way of doing it than voting yes on Marsy’s Law for Georgia.
Marcello Banes is chairman of the Newton County Commission.