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Tampa Bay Times: Campaign launching to add victims’ bill of rights to Florida Constitution

Monday, August 28, 2017

By: Adam C. Smith

A newly created crime victim’s group, Marsy’s Law for Florida, is launching a campaign to codify in the state constitution specific rights for crime victims. Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco and state Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation plan to submit language for the Florida Constitution Revision Commission to place on the 2018 ballot.

Florida is one of 15 states that does not enumerate victims’ rights in its constitution, and since California in 2008 enacted Marsy’s Law, the California Victims’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008, several states have followed suit. Marsy’s Law is named after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas of California who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. A week after her death, Marsy’s mother and brother, Henry T. Nicholas, walked into a grocery store and saw the accused murdered who had been released on bail unbeknownst to the victim’s family. Nicholas, a tech billionaire, has been leading the effort to expand Marsy’s Law throughout the country, succeeding so far in California, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Illinois.

In other states critics have called it a potentially costly unfunded mandate and warned that poorly written initiatives could lead to unintended consequences.

Among the rights advocates want in Florida’s constitution:

● informing victims and their families about their rights and the services available to them,

● giving them the right to receive notification of proceedings and major developments in a criminal case,

● protecting their safety by notifying them in a timely manner regarding changes to the offender’s custodial status,

● allowing victims and their families to exercise their right to be present – and heard – at court proceedings,

● providing input to the prosecutor before a plea agreement is finalized; and

● establishing the right to restitution from the convicted.

“My first priority as Sheriff of Pasco County is to prevent crime and keep our citizens safe,” said Sheriff Nocco. “When a crime is committed, the rights of the victim should be equal to the rights of the accused. This seems like common sense, but in Florida today, victims’ rights are not guaranteed. I’m bringing this language before the CRC because I believe my fellow commissioners and the citizens of Florida agree that victims of crimes should be treated fairly, with dignity, and the same Constitutional rights as the accused.”

Sen. Book, a victim of sexual abuse as a child, founded Lauren’s Kids, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing sexual abuse through education and awareness and to support survivors.

“I’ve spent my life advocating for victims’ rights and I’m proud to support Marsy’s Law,” said Book. “The pain a victim suffers in the aftermath of a crime is hard enough without being revictimized by the criminal justice system. Whether or not the system honors and protects the rights of a victim can be the difference between that victim achieving justice, healing, and survivorship, or feeling lost and let down – or even worse, completely ignored. Marsy’s Law will give each victim the promise of having their voice heard.”


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