Last Wednesday I wore purple at the Capitol, and listened to accounts of victims and survivors, who explained through personal tragedies, why Idaho’s current victim’s rights laws are antiquated; today, I urge support for SJR 101, commonly known as Marsy’s Law, to complete what our state began in 1994, and remedy the inadequacies of the law as written so that it may serve the ultimate purpose for which it was intended.
A quarter of a century ago, Idaho recognized the need for legislation to protect crime victims, and amended Article I, section 22 of the Constitution, resulting in the requirement of minimal notice to victims of only certain hearings. At the time, Idaho was at the forefront of a movement recognizing the need to protect the vulnerable and create in its Constitution this fundamental right for the otherwise voiceless, but unfortunately the law did not go far enough, and has not evolved in twenty-five years. SJR 101 fills this gap, providing for notice of post conviction proceedings, release, and custodial escape, as well as a right of participation.
Under current legislation, and perhaps most significant, victims lack “standing” - the very basic but necessary legal concept that allows the victim to participate in the process and be recognized by the court. As an attorney who spent part of her career on a child protection trial team, I recognize the crisis this creates for the victim attempting to assert her or his rights without statutory guarantees, and my professional experience was echoed by the testimonials of frustration and sincere fear of the victims with whom I spoke last week. Marsys’s Law would improve current legislation to ensure its effectiveness and enforcement- without Marsys’s Law, Idaho’s statute is simply pretty words, a polite idea, yet insufficient to provide the realistic and needed protections of reasonable notice, the right to be present at hearings, the opportunity to participate in the process, and frankly, to heal.
Constitutional rights are not mutually exclusive; SJR 101 does not jeopardize or diminish the rights of an accused as guaranteed under the 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, and 14th and corresponding state amendments; judges and prosecutors retain their roles and their vast discretion, sentencing guidelines and alternatives remain intact, and the sacred rights of the accused remain untouched. SJR 101 simply recognizes that the victim by right, is a part of the story, and therefore the judicial process.
Idaho is a state that values life, family, liberty, and the principles embodied in our unique Constitution inherent to the success and longevity of democracy itself - a victim’s enjoyment of these American guarantees are unfairly destroyed the moment she or he is made a victim by the actions of another. I understand the gravity of a Constitutional amendment, and do not take this position lightly or without due diligence; the required 2/3 majority support from our state’s Legislature does not amend the Constitution, but simply allows SJR 101 to appear on the ballot. I urge the state Legislature to support SJR 101 so that Idaho may decide for itself by popular vote.