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Miami Herald: Support the constitutional amendment that would ensure victims and their families a voice

Friday, March 16, 2018


When a crime is committed, and a suspect is apprehended, they are granted certain rights.

They are guaranteed the right to know what crime they are accused of committing, to confront their accusers, and to have a speedy and fair trial by an impartial jury.

Those rights ensure the defendant is protected from injustice. As Floridians, we believe so strongly in those rights they are enshrined in the Florida Constitution.

When a crime is committed, another party is created, the victim.

As governor, I held victims’ hands as they told me their stories. I hugged children who had lost their parents and prayed with parents who had lost a child. They told stories that I can’t imagine having to live through.

Victims also have rights, but they are limited and, unfortunately, they are not always enforced.

That’s why I am supporting a constitutional amendment that would grant and ensure victims and their families the right to be heard. The Florida Constitution Revision Commission has a unique opportunity this year to make changes to our state constitution.

Proposition 96, commonly known as Marsy’s Law, is named after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, a California woman who was murdered by an ex-boyfriend. After her funeral, her family walked into a grocery store where they were confronted by the murderer. They had never even been informed he had been released on bail.

Her family successfully advocated to add Marsy’s Law to the California Constitution in 2008, and it has since become law in four other states, with eleven more now considering ballot language.

Florida should be the next state to provide bold leadership in the arena of victims’ rights. Too many times victims are revictimized by the judicial system that should protect them. Imagine being the husband of a murdered wife who is never notified by the state attorney or law enforcement about hearings associated with the trial of his wife’s killer.

Imagine a rape victim whose rapist has chosen to defend himself and now forces his victim to sit across the table from him in a deposition while he asks detailed and humiliating questions about his crime.

Imagine being denied the right to give a victim impact statement at a sentencing hearing. These are real life scenarios. Each situation has happened to a family in the state of Florida and I find it unacceptable.

Defenders of the status quo say that the current victims’ rights language already offers protections. The truth is the language is insufficient and is not being enforced to truly protect victims.

Marsy’s Law would give victims, survivors and their families rights equal to those of accused and convicted criminals.

Marsy’s Law offers enumerated rights in the Florida Constitution to ensure victims and their families know the rights, services and protections afforded to them.

It would ensure the right to be notified about major developments in the criminal case and the incarceration status of the accused; the right to be present at court proceedings and to be consulted before a plea deal is reached; and the right to restitution.

The rights of the accused and convicted will not be infringed by securing specific rights for victims, survivors and their families. It’s common sense reform that will bring relief to families who have already suffered enough.

The members of the Constitution Revision Commission have an opportunity to speak up for those without a voice. I encourage them to support Marsy’s Law and let the voters decide in November.

Jeb Bush served as the 43rd Governor of Florida and was a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.


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