In 1992, lawmakers and the citizens of Illinois voted to add language to the state Constitution that was intended to give victims a clear legal platform upon which to assert their rights. Unfortunately, that amendment did not work entirely as intended. The criminal justice system in Illinois has not uniformly allowed victims to stand up for their rights.
Victims of violent crime in Illinois are entitled to a range of rights under clearly established law. But rights such as those to be notified of court proceedings and to make a statement at sentencing, for instance, often are ignored.
Marsy’s Law, a proposal to amend the Illinois Constitution to strengthen the rights of crime victims, would ensure that each victim has the means to assert the rights that he or she enjoys under the law. By approving Marsy’s Law, Illinois would join 30 other states where victims already may assert their rights in court. This year, Illinois is poised to join this movement and make crime victims’ rights enforceable.
In a recent editorial, the Sun-Times falsely implied that this amendment would grant victims a new arsenal of rights — and that asserting them would somehow impede the flow of criminal proceedings and perhaps even undermine the rights of the accused.
Crime victims in Illinois have for decades enjoyed these rights under the law. But they have struggled to act on them in court because some judges have held they lack sufficient connection to criminal cases to be heard. Marsy’s Law would make clear the victim has standing to invoke any one of 12 rights enumerated in the Constitution. It would then be up to the judge presiding over the case to rule on the victim’s motion.
Though the victim will have standing to assert his or her rights, it’s important to note that he or she will not become a party to the case. This means the victim will not make decisions relative to charging, will not have the power to tell the prosecutor how to handle the case, and will not present evidence as part of the case. Only when a right such as those concerning fairness, respect, notification, information, restitution or offering a voice at sentencing is denied or ignored, will Marsy’s Law provide a remedy.
Let’s remember that crime victims have been battered, raped or abused. Their family members have been murdered. But these same victims often have been marginalized by the criminal justice system. Just as a defendant has a remedy when rights are violated, a victim should have a remedy when rights are violated. Courts across the nation have demonstrated that honoring the rights of crime victims does not infringe upon defendants’ rights.
Illinois lawmakers will soon be asked to vote on Marsy’s Law. This should not be a tough vote. Lawmakers, prosecutors and advocates have joined together to ensure that Marsy’s Law will work for victims. All that is left for us to do is give the voters a chance to stand with victims in November.
Victims already have all the rights listed in this amendment. What they don’t have is a way to stand up for them in court.
For more information on Marsy’s Law, please visit marsyslawforillinois.org.
Noelle Dupuis is Director of Policy for the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence.