During a long career in law enforcement, including 20 years as sheriff of Troup County, crime prevention topped my priorities. But when a crime took place, my priority changed to seeing justice served. Justice in such cases includes not just meting out the proper punishment to the perpetrator but also servicing the needs of the victims.
Now, I’m working on a statewide effort to put equal rights for victims into our state constitution. To me, it’s a natural extension of the work I did every day that I wore a uniform and a badge.
I’ve joined a campaign to enact Marsy’s Law, a crime victims’ Bill of Rights, that will give victims in our state the same rights that are already afforded to the accused and convicted.
Since 2010, victims in Georgia have had a bill of rights in statute, but we are one of only a handful of states that does not provide victims equal rights and constitutional protections. We can all agree that no rapist should have more rights than the victim. No murderer should be afforded more rights than the victim’s family. Marsy’s Law would ensure that victims have the same “co-equal” rights as the accused and convicted — nothing more, nothing less.
Marsy’s Law is named for Marsy Nicholas, who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Only a week after she was murdered, her mother and brother, Henry T. Nicholas, walked into a grocery store after visiting Marsy’s grave where they were confronted by the accused murderer. The family had no idea he had been released on bail. He remained free on bail until his conviction.
Dr. Henry Nicholas has made it his mission in life to give victims and their families across the country constitutional protections and equal rights. In 2014, voters in Illinois passed Marsy’s Law by a 78 percent margin.
A constitutional amendment for victims’ rights, if put on the 2016 ballot by the General Assembly and approved by Georgia voters, would guarantee equal rights to crime victims. Victims and their families would receive information about their rights and the services available to them. They would have the right to receive notification of proceedings and major developments in the criminal case. They would have the right to receive timely notifications changes to the offender’s custodial status.
Victims and their families would have the right to be present at court proceedings and provide input to the prosecutor before a plea agreement is finalized. They would have the right to be heard at plea or sentencing proceedings or any process that may result in the offender’s release. Finally, they would have the right to restitution.
All of these rights would be provided to crime victims in the form of Marsy’s Card. Victims’ rights advocates, first responders and prosecutors point to the Marsy’s Card as a critical component of establishing rights and making a complicated process easier to understand. Much like Miranda Rights read to the accused, a Marsy’s Card is provided to victims of crime and their families.
Marsy’s Law is not a partisan issue. Law-abiding citizens can all embrace it.
In recent years, Georgia has led the nation in bipartisan criminal justice reforms, and we’re already seeing lower costs and better outcomes. While we all have a stake in rehabilitating offenders so that they don’t return to crime, we can’t forget the victims left behind who are fighting to put their lives back together. Marsy’s Law makes sure they get the same level of rights as their offenders.
Donny Turner is a former sheriff of Troup County.