Column: Victims of Crime Deserve Marsy’s Law

To the Valley News
Tuesday, February 06, 2018

The comprehensive constitutional amendment CACR 22, or “Marsy’s Law,” provides basic rights for victims of crime in New Hampshire. This bill has earned overwhelming support from those who work in New Hampshire’s criminal justice system. I, too, support this measure, which will bring enforceable rights to some of New Hampshire’s most vulnerable citizens — victims of crime.

Marsy’s Law was passed in California as the Victim’s Bill of Rights Act of 2008. According to the website Marsy’s Law for All, it was named after Marsalee (Marsy) Nicholas, a University of California-Santa Barbara student who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. A week after the killing, her family was confronted by the suspect in a grocery store. The family had not been informed that the man had been released on bail.

Recent academic discussions around CACR 22 have suggested two separate proposals for amending the bill. Both proposals would strip the bill of its content and enforceability and would do nothing to resolve the root imbalance we see today between crime victims and defendants in our system of justice.

The first proposal suggests gutting the bill and replacing it with a meaningless single sentence that states: “victims should be treated with respect for their safety, dignity and privacy.” Make no mistake: This proposal would render the constitutional amendment meaningless and would lead to decades of litigation over its true intent. If you want to treat victims with “fairness, respect and safety,” you need to do more than just say it.

CACR 22 in its current form provides a number of specific rights to victims and provides direction to the court about how to apply those rights. For instance, CACR 22 provides constitutional rights to victims when they opt-in to request timely and reasonable notice so that they can be at important proceedings involving the criminal process. When there is a trial or a guilty plea, sentencing or parole, to name just a few, victims would be notified that they may appear and be heard. CACR 22 allows victims to be informed of their rights, and provides a constitutional right of protection from the accused or convicted criminals and those connected with them. CACR 22 allows the court to weigh the specific rights of a victim with the specific rights of a defendant, and when those rights conflict, make a determination about which right will prevail.

Alternatively, the proposed feel-good amendment does nothing to provide victims with notice of the release or escape of those who are convicted. It does not provide for victims to be informed of their constitutional rights. It does not create a constitutional right of protection from the accused or convicted criminals and those connected with them. It does not provide for timely restitution. It does not have any enforcement mechanism. And it does nothing to clarify and correct the deficiencies we see in our court system in New Hampshire today.

A second amendment that has been proposed would allow constitutional protections for victims, but “only to the extent that they are not inconsistent with the constitutional or statutory rights of the accused.” Do not be fooled: This sentence is not an attempt to offer a compromise solution. This amendment is a poison pill that would invalidate the proposed rights for victims under CACR 22, and would maintain a system in which the rights of a defendant and criminals are given greater weight than the rights of the victim.

I believe that victims deserve better than a one-sentence, feel-good constitutional amendment. It is time for New Hampshire to extend enforceable protections to victims of crime by passing CACR 22.

Chuck Douglas is a former Supreme Court Justice who practices law in Concord.