Advocates Rally for Constitutional Amendment To Enforce Legal Rights of Crime Victims
Marsy’s Law, or HJRCA 29, would amend the Illinois Constitution to protect crime victims and their families
Victims’ rights advocates gathered at the state Capitol today to rally support for an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that would legally enforce victims’ rights and help protect thousands of people who have suffered violent crimes.
Marsy’s Law for Illinois, also known as HJRCA 29, provides crime victims with enforceable legal rights that protect their safety and ensure they are aware of their attackers’ whereabouts. Currently, victims have legal rights under Illinois law, but they are not enforceable.
“We need to pass this resolution to fix the broken victims’ rights laws that currently prevail in our state constitution,” said Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, director of Marsy’s Law for Illinois. “Illinois is the only state that actually bars the enforcement of victims’ rights. Marsy’s Law not only gives victims a voice in the process, but it also empowers them with a true sense of safety and security. We should be focusing on protecting victims and their families, not putting them at risk of further trauma.”
In Illinois, victims are guaranteed the right to be informed of court proceedings, but some victims never learn about hearings until after the fact; victims are guaranteed the right to be present at trials and hearings about their case, but many are ultimately excluded from the process; and victims are guaranteed the right to present a written statement to the court about the impact of the violent crime on them, but many have been denied the opportunity.
HJRCA 29, which the Illinois House approved 116-2 on February 8, would amend the Illinois Constitution by providing mechanisms for the enforcement of victims’ rights. The resolution is currently in front of the Illinois Senate for approval. If approved, the amendment will be included on the November 6 election ballot for a public vote.
In 1992, Illinois was at the forefront of the nation by giving rights to victims of violent crimes. However, despite the state’s groundbreaking and noble intentions, the original amendment was left without the key technical wording that would make these rights enforceable. As a result, the existing amendment leaves victims unprotected and often barred from even basic information surrounding criminal court proceedings.
“Innocent victims of crime deserve every possible protection,” said Attorney General Lisa Madigan. “This amendment will guarantee that victims have not just a voice in the criminal justice system, but enforceable rights.”
HJRCA 29 is modeled after Marsy’s Law in California, which was passed as a state constitutional amendment in 2008. Marsy’s Law is named for Marsy Nicholas, a 23-year-old graduate student 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, molestation, 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.
“We need to ensure that victims of violent crimes have the right to information and knowledge that can protect them and their families,” said Tom Dart, Cook County Sheriff. “It is unacceptable that our current laws could potentially expose them to further harm. We have seen too many cases 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 the proper support of the law and a clear set of enforceable rights.”
The Federal Government guarantees enforceable 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 the aforementioned California, have followed suit, recently passing similar constitutional amendments making victims’ rights enforceable.
“Illinois is behind the times and we need to get up to speed,” said Polly Poskin, executive director, Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “We applaud our state representatives and strongly urge our state senators to follow suit by allowing the people of Illinois to vote on this issue in November.”
Marsy’s Law for Illinois is supported by the Illinois Coalition for Enforceable Victims Rights, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), Rainbow PUSH, and many other advocacy organziations.
To learn more about Marsy’s Law, visit marsyslawforillinois.org.