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TC Palm: New law would protect victims’ rights in Florida constitution

Monday, October 16, 2017

By: Carolyn Timmann

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission provides an opportunity for Floridians to enact change, including preserving and protecting certain rights. Through my experience as Martin County Clerk of the Circuit Court and in other roles working with our state court system, I have observed many victims trying to navigate our criminal justice system.

That is precisely why I am proud to co-sponsor Commissioner Proposal 5. Together with other Constitution Revision commissioners, including the sponsor, Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco and several co-sponsors, we hope to ensure crime victims have true equality and justice under the law by proposing a long-overdue constitutional amendment for consideration by Floridians.

I hope my fellow commissioners will support the proposed amendment so Floridians can decide on the 2018 general election ballot if they want to protect victims’ rights. This proposal will not alter or remove constitutional protections of the accused, but it will guarantee victims basic protections including the right to be treated with dignity, the right to privacy, the right to have a voice in proceedings, the right to be notified of any major developments in the criminal case and the right to restitution. Every victim deserves these rights.

The history of this proposal dates back to 1983, when college student Marsy Nicholas was killed by her ex-boyfriend. Days after her murder, Marsy’s family was confronted by the accused murderer. He had been released on bail, but the family remained in the dark because they were not legally entitled to that information. Since then, Marsy’s brother has dedicated his life to ensure such traumatic encounters do not happen to any other family. Victims and their families deserve protection under our state constitution, and that’s exactly what Proposal 5 does.

Here in Florida, victims’ rights currently are protected under state statute. Our state attorneys and law enforcement do all they can to make victim notification and representation a priority. Now, we have the chance to do more.

The Florida Constitution is the most powerful document in our state and, as such, constitutional mandates help guide a judge’s legal decisions. Therefore, the rights of the accused, which are listed in our constitution, carry more weight than the rights of victims. It just makes sense to give victims constitutional standing equal to that of the accused.

 When an individual is raped, attacked or otherwise harmed, his or her suffering does not end after the crime has been committed. Invasive interviews, lengthy court hearings and trials and years of emotional trauma are only the beginning. The criminal justice process can be complicated and confusing, leaving victims and their families feeling afraid and silenced during their most vulnerable time.

Marsy and her family never expected to become crime victims. Neither did the 88,501 Floridians victimized by violent crimes in 2016. So the question before Florida voters would be whether victims’ rights should be on the same legal level as the rights of the accused, guaranteeing they are respected, protected and treated with dignity.

Past, present and future victims of crimes deserve to be treated fairly.

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