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The Gainesville Sun: Sadie Darnell: Crime victims need constitutional protections

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

By Sheriff Sadie Darnell

Recently, I joined more than three dozen Florida sheriffs in endorsing Amendment 6/Marsy’s Law for Florida, a proposal that would add a Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights to the Florida Constitution. If passed by 60 percent of voters this November, Amendment 6 will provide victims with rights and protections that are equal to, not greater than, the rights and protections already provided the accused and convicted.

As law enforcement officers, we are usually the first ones at the scene of a crime. We are among the first people victims encounter. We have seen the emotional and physical trauma they have endured. We work tirelessly to help them recover and heal, but without clear constitutional protections in place, victims’ rights are sometimes compromised, despite our best efforts.

Victims deserve to be notified when the defendant is released from prison. They deserve to be informed of hearings and provided a voice during these events. They deserve to be compensated for their loss. Most importantly, victims deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and compassion. These rights seem so straightforward and ingrained, yet none of the protections listed above are stated in the Florida Constitution in an enforceable manner.

In 2017, 1,645 people were victims of violent crime in Alachua County. Most likely, someone you know is on that list, whether it’s family, friends, colleagues or neighbors. The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office strives to treat each crime victim the way we’d hope a loved one would be treated in a similar situation, but sometimes our hands are tied. As law officers, we must protect and serve our state while strictly adhering to constitutional provisions. Unlike those accused of a crime, victims do not have specific rights outlined in the constitution. In the eyes of the law, the criminal’s rights are stronger than the victim’s.

A grieving father is not constitutionally mandated to be notified of any hearings in the trial against his child’s murderer. A sexual assault victim might not be permitted to tell the court about the assault’s impact on his/her life. An attempted murderer could be released on parole without any regard to the victim’s safety. Crime victims and their families already feel powerless about their situation. Not providing them with a voice is demeaning and demoralizing.

I took an oath that I will support, protect and defend our constitution. That means I am committed to upholding the rights of the accused under the Sixth Amendment. I cannot and will not support any measure that disputes their rights. But, I firmly believe protecting the rights of the accused while also protecting the rights of crime victims are not mutually exclusive. Marsy’s Law is an excellent policy proposal to meet the needs of all parties in the case.

I am proud to join my colleagues across the state, as well as the Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Florida Sheriffs Association, in lending my support to Marsy’s Law. I encourage voters to voice their support for victims’ rights on the ballot this fall.

Sadie Darnell is Alachua County sheriff.

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