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Granite State Debates -- Bette Lasky and Bill Gannon: Marsy's Law compromise strikes right balance

March 18. 2018 10:59PM

When victims of crime confront the justice system in New Hampshire, they do so at a disadvantage. Already feeling isolated and vulnerable from the harm they’ve suffered at the hands of an offender, once their case enters the courts, those feelings are often compounded as the process leaves victims behind, voiceless and alone.

Offenders and their attorneys have many statutory and constitutional rights afforded to them within the criminal justice system, and rightly so. Victims deserve the same.

Thirty-five other states have recognized this imbalance and incorporated some basic rights for victims of crime into their constitutions. This year, New Hampshire is attempting to join those states by passing CACR 22, also known as Marsy’s Law.

Marsy’s Law (named after a young woman who was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend) involves some fundamental rights. If passed, victims of rape would have the right to know when their rapist is being released or paroled. A business owner who suffered a financially devastating burglary would have the right to court proceedings free from unreasonable delay that could further harm their livelihood. All victims of crime would have the right to be treated with fairness, dignity, and respect.

You might think these simple courtesies would be the norm in our criminal justice system, but unfortunately, because victims lack state constitutional rights, they are not. Over the last few weeks, the Senate Judiciary Committee has reviewed testimony from several victims and family members who describe a system that, at best, silences them, and at worst, re-victimizes them.

Marsy’s Law doesn’t give victims veto power over cases; it gives them a meaningful voice. Nonetheless, some have come forward with concerns that CACR 22 might infringe upon the rights of the accused. We continue to listen closely to both sides, and at this point we have reached a compromise that we believe will protect both victims and defendants.

The amendment, supported by the attorney general’s office, is designed specifically to protect due process rights. In the spirit of compromise, it removes a directive that the courts enforce victims’ rights “in a manner no less vigorous than the rights of the accused.” In addition, the amendment requires victims to request specific rights, clarifying the existing opt-in system. It also narrows the times at which a victim may request to be heard in court, and removes the right of a victim to refuse pre-trial discovery requests from the defendant. We believe these substantive changes strike the right balance between two compelling viewpoints, and we are hopeful both sides of the debate can join us in supporting this compromise.

Granite Staters are resilient people who value fairness. We don’t like to be labeled as “victims” or to feel powerless and alone. But when citizens suffer because of criminal wrongdoing, they deserve dignity, basic fairness, and a voice in the judicial process. That’s why we support the amended version of Marsy’s Law.

Sen. Bette Lasky, D-Nashua, and Sen. Bill Gannon, R-Sandown, serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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