Illinois Senate Approves Historic Constitutional Amendment to Enforce Crime Victims' Rights
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- The Illinois Senate today approved 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. Crime victims, their families and other victims' rights advocates hailed the approval as a historic moment.
The Senate approved the measure, HJRCA 29, by a vote of 55-1 with one present vote. The bill now heads 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. If approved by both chambers, the proposed amendment will be put to voters on the November 6th general election ballot.
"We thank the Illinois Senate for making history today in the fight to protect victims' rights," said 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. "The work the State of Illinois started 20 years to give crime victims a greater voice in the justice process is a critical step closer to completion. This amendment will provide a remedy for victims and families if their rights are violated. No longer will they be ignored or excluded from the process."
In 1992, Illinois was one of the first states to include rights for victims of violent crime in its state constitution. However, despite these groundbreaking and noble intentions, the wording of the original amendment did not provide remedies for violations. The new amendment would correct that flaw while also expanding on the rights codified in the 1992 amendment.
"Today, we have reason to celebrate. The Illinois Senate took a monumental step to a clear set of enforceable rights for victims in our Illinois Constitution," said Polly Poskin, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA). "In November, the voters in our great state will add their support for victims' rights and the democratic principles of fairness and justice will be strengthened once again."
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. HJRCA 29, 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.
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. 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.
Full disclosure, transparency and accountability within the criminal justice process, including the right to participate in parole hearings, can be instrumental in protecting victims from violent offenders. In many cases, these are victims of battery, rape, assault, or family members of those who have been murdered.
Maria Ramirez of Chicago, whose son was murdered in 2006, expressed her gratitude while reflecting on the work still to be done.
"This is a monumental decision that will have a real and positive impact on victims and families," she said. "There are many cases where victims have endured repeated suffering at the hands of a violent individual. Now, we begin the work to convince the voters of Illinois that these incidents could have been prevented if the victim had a clear set of enforceable rights." Ramirez 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.
The Federal Government guarantees victims rights through the Federal Crime Victims Rights Act (2004), which provides victims of federal crimes extensive rights as well as redress if those rights are violated. Other states, including Arizona, Oregon and California, have followed suit, recently passing constitutional amendments making victims' rights enforceable.
Once given the final OK back in the Illinois House, the proposed amendment will be added to the November ballot and be decided upon by Illinois voters.