Illinois Crime Victims and Advocates Urge Approval of Constitutional Amendment to Enforce Crime Victims' Rights
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Crime victims, their families and other advocates for stronger, enforceable victims' rights today urged the Illinois Senate Executive Committee to approve a proposed amendment to the Illinois Constitution — Marsy's Law for Illinois — that would expand and enforce the right of victims and their families to participate more fully in criminal justice proceedings.
Approval by the Senate Executive Committee on Wednesday was needed to send the proposed amendment, HJRCA 29, to the full Senate. Once approved by both chambers of the General Assembly, the proposed amendment would be put to voters on the November 6 general election ballot.
Those appearing in favor of the amendment included Ann Spillane, Chief of Staff for the Illinois Attorney General's Office; crime victims Jamie Foster, Marilyn Wagner and Maria Ramirez; and Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins director of Marsy's Law for Illinois, a not-for-profit organization coordinating a coalition of many groups supporting the amendment drive.
"Marsy's Law for Illinois will complete the important work to protect crime victims that the State started 20 years ago," said Spillane, speaking on behalf of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. "We fully support an amendment to the Constitution to protect victims of violent crimes and empower them with the rights they deserve."
Marsy's Law for Illinois would protect the rights and safety of crime victims and ensure they are informed about court proceedings involving their attackers. Currently, crime victims have legal rights under Illinois law, but they are not enforceable.
"The criminal justice process is supposed to protect innocent citizens and hold accountable those guilty of crime," said Bishop-Jenkins. "Yet weak laws in Illinois prevent crime victims from exercising their rights. Too often victims are ignored or even excluded from the process."
"A constitutional amendment not only would give crime victims a greater voice in the process, but would provide a remedy if their rights are violated. We should be focusing on protecting victims and their families, not further endangering them," she said.
HJRCA 29, which passed the Illinois House on February 8, will reform and provide enforcement mechanisms for the 1992 draft of Victims Rights provisions in Article I, Section 8.1 of the Illinois Constitution. The amendment would ensure that crime victims are:
- Guaranteed the right to be informed of court proceedings
- Guaranteed the right to be present at trials and hearings regarding their case subject to judicial approval
- Guaranteed the right to present a written statement to the court about the impact a violent crime has had on them
- Provided greater access to post trial proceedings
- Guaranteed timely action on requests
- Allowed to appeal decisions that affect the exercise of their personal rights.
In 1992, Illinois was one of the first states to include rights for victims of violent crime in its state constitution. However, despite Illinois' groundbreaking and noble intentions, the wording of the original amendment did not provide remedies for violations. The proposed new amendment would correct that flaw while also expanding on the rights codified in the 1992 amendment. Other states, including Arizona, Oregon and California, have recently passed constitutional amendments making victims' rights enforceable.
HJRCA 29 is modeled after language in 2004 federal crime victim statutes and Marsy's Law in California, which was enacted as a state constitutional amendment by referendum in 2008. Marsy's Law is named for Marsy Nicholas, a 23-year-old graduate student at University of California Santa Barbara who was stalked and murdered by an ex-boyfriend in 1983. A week after Nicholas's funeral, her mother was confronted by the murderer in a local supermarket. The family had not been informed of his release after he posted bail. He was later tried and found guilty of the crime.
The incident and others like it bring to light an important aspect of HJRCA 29, mainly the issues surrounding the safety and security of victims and their families. In many cases, these are victims of battery, rape, assault, or family members of those who have been murdered. Full disclosure within the criminal justice process, including the right to participate in parole hearings, can be instrumental in protecting victims from violent offenders.
"It's simply unacceptable that our current laws leave innocent victims and their families potentially exposed to additional harm and distress," said Maria Ramirez of Chicago, whose son was murdered in 2006. She and her family were threatened in the courtroom by the family of the perpetrators, saw a memorial to her son burned and had her back window on her car smashed. "It's happened far too often where a victim has suffered at the hands of a violent individual more than once. Many of these incidents could have been prevented if the victim had a clear set of enforceable rights."
Jamie Foster of Perry County was four months pregnant when she and her two young children were hit by a drunk driver in Randolph County in January 2011. She lost the baby and was severely injured. She was never notified of any court proceeding in the offender's case.
"My family and myself are like countless other victims of violent crime in Illinois," said Foster. "We have been forced to silently go through the same painful experience, and often find ourselves lost in a criminal justice system that does not always function according to our best interests. I'm hopeful the members of the Senate Committee will seize this unique opportunity to stand up for these victims of crime in our state."
Marilyn Wagner of Jacksonville, whose brother was murdered in Springfield in 2010 added, "Victims and their families are closer to the crime and the trial than anyone else, yet they don't have a voice in the process. This amendment would give them their rightful voice, give them some peace of mind, and protect them from further harm."
If endorsed by the Senate Executive Committee, a full vote in the Illinois Senate is expected within the next two weeks. If approved by the full Senate, the bill would head back to the House for its final OK given wording changes made in the Senate version. The measure previously was approved in the House 116-2.