This week is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. When violent crimes occur in our state, we hear about the perpetrator, but the aftermath for the victims and their families receives little, if any, attention. Most are ill prepared to deal with the criminal justice process into which they are thrown and are destined to suffer more pain when they are re-victimized by a system supposedly designed to support them and deliver justice.

This year, the Hawaii Legislature considered a bill, which I introduced, to put the constitutional protection of victims before voters.  While action on this legislation has been deferred to next year’s session, it will be heard in time to be placed before the voters in November of 2016.  This will give Hawaii voters the ability to amend the constitution to include guarantees of victims’ rights.

Currently, victims of crime in Hawaii only have statutory rights that are unenforceable in court by the victims and therefore these rights can be and are ignored. At a hearing on the bill this session, I heard again and again how the pain of grieving family members was compounded by the criminal justice process.

Marsys-Law-Testimony

Nonohe Botelho testifies in support of a victims’ rights law for Hawaii. Her son was murdered in front of her home in 2011.

Courtesy of MarsysLawforHawaii.org

In one case, the committee heard from a woman whose husband was killed by a hit-and-run driver, leaving her to raise a 5-year-old alone. First, she had to wait for two years as the trial was repeatedly delayed. Then, after the perpetrator was sentenced to spend 10 years in prison, she discovered her husband’s killer had been released on parole two years early. Imagine her shock. She was not notified, much less given an opportunity to speak at the parole hearing about her husband and how his death had affected her and her son.

Another woman testified that when her ex-husband abducted her three children and took them to Mexico, the State of Hawaii issued four felony warrants against him. Without informing her, the prosecutor’s office dismissed the warrants against her ex-husband. She found out about the dismissal only because friends informed her that her ex-husband had moved back to the United States, which caused her to call the prosecutor’s office. She was devastated because the dismissal meant her ex-husband would never be held accountable for abducting her children.

In criminal cases, the Hawaii Constitution provides rights to everyone involved: the defendant, the media and the public — everyone except crime victims and their families. Yet, the crime victim has more at stake than the media and the public, and as much interest in the outcome as the defendant.

While Hawaii provides some statutory rights for victims, it does not establish permanent, enforceable rights for crime victims guaranteed by the Constitution. Consequently, victims’ statutory rights can be ignored and often are. Hawaii is one of 18 states that does not provide victims constitutional protections.

We need a law modeled after the laws passed in California and Illinois known as Marsy’s Law, named after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas. Marsy was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Only a week after she was murdered, her mother and brother, Henry 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.

Marsy’s brother, Dr. Henry T. Nicholas, made it his mission in life to give victims and their families across the country constitutional rights. A constitutional amendment for victims’ rights, if adopted, would guarantee the following basic rights to crime victims:

  • The right to be treated with courtesy, fairness, with respect for their dignity and privacy throughout the criminal justice proceedings.
  • The right to receive information about their rights and services available to crime victims.
  • The right to receive notification of proceedings and major developments in their criminal case.
  • The right to receive timely notification of changes to the offender’s custodial status.
  • The right to be present at court proceedings.
  • The right to provide input to the prosecutor before a plea agreement is finalized.
  • The right to be heard at plea or sentencing proceedings or any process that may result in the offender’s release.
  • The right to restitution.

Other states have demonstrated that these constitutional protections do not diminish those of the accused. But they would give Hawaii victims and their families protections and a voice in the criminal justice process, which they have been denied for too long.

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