Bringing Attention To The Victims’ Rights Amendment

December 14, 2018 GMT

We thank you for bringing your readers’ attention through your editorial on Nov. 26 to the proposed state constitutional amendment which will first come before the voters next year for, what we hope, will be the first of two successful ratification votes. We are also appreciative of your support for most of this Victims’ Rights Amendment, also known as Marsy’s Law, which would ensure that victims are treated with dignity and respect, and afforded rights and protections within the juvenile and criminal justice systems. This amendment includes a long list of provisions, which are in fact already in statute or case law in this state, provisions which most of the public take for granted: the right to information about their case, the right to confer with the prosecutor, the right to a voice in critical decisions regarding their case, the right to restitution, and many more. But unfortunately, these rights are not guaranteed under the constitution, leaving no recourse and no remedy for victims if they are overlooked, or forgotten, or violated. Raising these statutory rights to constitutional requirements will propel crime victims closer to the same level of protection as the accused within our justice system. This significant change is a long time in coming, hard fought, and sorely needed. Where we disagree with your editorial is in your characterization of the provision regarding the victim’s right to refuse interviews or other discovery requests in a case. It might come as a surprise to many, but in Pennsylvania victims are permitted to reject an interview request made by the accused or their attorney in the criminal and juvenile justice systems, unless they are subject to a grand jury summons. The Commonwealth is subject to discovery, not the victim. Defendants have a right to confront their accuser at trial and through the courts, not beforehand and not one-on-one. Just like the other rights enumerated for victims in Marsy’s Law, this provision will provide a level of constitutional guarantee not already in place. Marsy’s Law will put the crime victim’s rights on equal footing with the accused without jeopardizing an accused person’s right to defend him or herself. We applaud those rights of the accused. Accused and defendants’ rights are the foundation of justice, and must not be diminished. But to make that justice fair for all, the same level of constitutional protections must also be applied to victims. CAROL LAVERY is the former Victim Advocate of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; JANET MACKAY is executive director of Victims Resource Center of Luzerne, Wyoming and Carbon counties; and STEFANIE SALAVANTIS is district attorney of Luzerne County.