Theresa Paulette’s son was killed by a drunk driver 22 years ago.

“I was immediately thrown into the unfamiliar world of the ‘criminal justice system’ and left to navigate it on my own,” Paulette said. “I trusted there would be justice, however I found it lacking in any regard for me, the victim, and my son, who lost his life.”

Her son was killed by a six-time DUI arrestee, Paulette said. And while she tried to cope, she struggled to get any information about the crash from law enforcement.

“I felt resistance every step of the way as I inquired or met to discuss the status of the investigation,” Paulette said. “It was agonizing waiting for the traffic accident investigation report, which took nearly a year, and the final decision was not to press charges.”

Ultimately, she said she felt re-victimized by the criminal justice system.

Several other people testified about similar experiences during a hearing Tuesday for Senate Bill 679, which would have amended the constitution to establish a crime victims’ bill of rights.

Senator Keith S.C. Keith-Agaran asks questions to attorney general candidate.  13 feb 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran, chair of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor, said the bill was written too broadly.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But the bill was derailed by the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor on Wednesday morning. SB 679’s companion bill was also deferred in the House.

A similar attempt to establish constitutional rights for victims failed in 2013.

Sen. Gilbert S.C. Keith-Agaran, chair of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor, worried that the language in the bill was too broad and could infringe on the rights of offenders. Lawmakers plan to work on the bill to incorporate more specific language and re-introduce it  next session, he said.

Also known as Marsy’s Law, SB 679 would have established constitutional rights for crime victims and their surviving immediate family members. Under the proposed law, they would be ensured access to timely information on court proceedings, restitution and guaranteed respectful treatment during the criminal justice process.

The law’s namesake is Marsalee “Marsy” Ann Nicholas, who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend, Kerry Conley, in 1983 in Santa Barbara, California. Only a week after Marsy was killed, her mother and brother were confronted by the alleged murdered in a grocery store. They had no idea that he had been released on bail, and the courts and law enforcement had no obligation to keep them informed.

Hawaii is one of 18 states that don’t establish victims’ rights in their constitutions. Supporters say it would create a better balance between the rights of victims of crime and the rights of offenders.

“It’s important because victims need constitutional rights, and they need to be enforceable. Statutory rights just aren’t sufficient to protect the interests and the rights of the victim.” —Cynthia Hora, an assistant attorney general in Illinois who came to Hawaii to testify in favor of the bill

SB 679 would have also guaranteed victims and their families courtesy and privacy throughout the criminal justice process, as well as timely notification of all public court proceedings, major developments, potential plea agreements and offender release dates.

The bill was opposed by the state Attorney General’s Office, which said the proposed rights were too broad and might negatively impact the criminal justice process.

The Department of Public Safety also opposed the bill, claiming it would hinder the department’s ability to process inmates and slow down court proceedings.

“Having this provision inserted into the Hawaii Constitution would have the unintended consequence of essentially creating jail and prison overcrowding and making the jail and prison programming and security operations unreasonably restricted,” Nolan P. Espinda, director of the Department of Public Safety said in written testimony.

Supporters said Marsy’s Law has provide valuable protection to victims and their families in other states. They say that the constitutional amendment would give victims and their loved ones a chance to speak throughout the criminal justice process.

“It’s important because victims need constitutional rights, and they need to be enforceable. Statutory rights just aren’t sufficient to protect the interests and the rights of the victim,” said Cynthia Hora, an assistant attorney general in Illinois who came to Hawaii to testify in favor of the bill.

“It’s really about victims having a voice,” said Pamela Ferguson-Brey, executive director of the state Crime Victim Compensation Commission.

Ferguson-Brey said that SB 679 would have given victims and their families’ critical support during very traumatic times in their lives. Without the constitutional amendment, victims and their families struggle to stay informed during the criminal justice process, and may not be told about possible opportunities for restitution.

“(Victims) weren’t given notification, they didn’t get a chance to speak at sentencing so that the judge could know what happen to the person that they loved,” said Ferguson-Brey.

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