Sunday, July 22, 2018
Opinion

Column: Add rights for crime victims to Florida Constitution

Throughout my career as a prosecutor, legislator and now member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, preserving Floridians’ civil rights and reforming our criminal justice system have been two of my top priorities. CRC Proposal 96, Marsy’s Law for Florida, combines these inherent passions and I am proud to support my fellow commissioner, Tim Cerio, as a co-sponsor of the measure.

Whether you are a Republican, Democrat or No Party Affiliation voter, we can all agree crime victims deserve clear, enforceable rights in our state Constitution, equal to those of the accused, nothing more and nothing less. I am honored to join with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure all victims of crime are provided a voice in the criminal justice system.

This week is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which is an annual movement to motivate recognition for victims’ rights. "Expand the Circle: Reach All Victims" is this year’s theme, which emphasizes the importance of providing support for all victims of crime, regardless of race, age, gender or sexual orientation. It is imperative that our communities work to reach all victims, especially minorities or those in underrepresented communities.

Over the last few months, I have heard from too many crime victims and victims’ advocates — women who were sexually abused as children, mothers whose children were murdered, husbands of homicide victims and leaders of victims’ support centers. Their stories of feeling alone, voiceless and lacking valuable information deeply resonated with me and reinforced why Marsy’s Law is needed.

Marsy’s Law for Florida would give victims basic, commonsense rights and protections — many of which people probably believe are already provided to victims. Among the rights and protections Marsy’s Law would provide:

• The right to be present at any court proceedings related to their case.

• The right to speak at their perpetrator’s plea hearing or sentencing, especially if the outcome may result in the offender’s release.

• The right to know if the person who victimized them is about to be released from prison.

• The right to be free from intimidation, harassment and abuse.

• The right to prevent the disclosure of information or records that could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family, or which could disclose confidential or privileged information of the victim.

• The right to full and timely restitution.

I also have heard from a few individuals who have objections about certain victims’ rights they don’t believe belong in the Constitution. The Constitution is our state’s most sacred legal document, and any change should not be taken lightly. I certainly appreciate their concern.

During the commission process, we worked with those who had concerns to create the proposal we have today. One of the most significant changes to Marsy’s Law, and one that drew the greatest concern among some in the legal community, was the right for a victim to choose to participate in a defense deposition or not. The provision was taken out of the latest version of Marsy’s Law for Florida prior to receiving 30 favorable votes from members of the full commission. Within the next week, the full CRC will take a second and final vote on Marsy’s Law for Florida.

If the amendment is placed on the November ballot by the CRC and passed by voters, we will finally be able tell sexual assault victims that they have the same constitutional protection as their attacker. We will be able to tell the mother of a murdered child that her voice is as legally important as the person’s voice who murdered her daughter.

Both supporters and opponents of Proposal 96 agree crime victims should be treated with respect and compassion. But by not giving them basic protections in the Constitution, our system revictimizes them again and again. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to these victims’ stories. Florida crime victims have spoken, and it is time for us to listen. If passed by the CRC and approved by 60 percent of Florida voters, Marsy’s Law would finally bring balance to the scales of justice in Florida.

As we commemorate National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, I encourage Floridians to reflect on how our state treats crime victims — and how we can do better.

State Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, serves District 19, covering Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, and is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

Comments

Editorial: NFL calls wise time-out on disciplining protests

The National Football League kept an embarrassing situation from becoming even worse by shelving its new policy clamping down on players who refuse to stand for the national anthem.The league announced late Thursday it would suspend the 2-month old p...
Published: 07/20/18
Editorial: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s responsible budget

Editorial: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s responsible budget

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is shoring up his final year in office with the proposed city budget he released Thursday. The plan includes no big-ticket items, opting instead to maintain ongoing investments in parks, roads and other basic public services....
Published: 07/19/18
Updated: 07/20/18

IRS making ‘dark money’ darker

Under a perverse interpretation of federal law, tax-exempt nonprofit organizations supposedly devoted to "social welfare" can spend large amounts of money to influence elections without publicly disclosing the identities of their donors. But instead ...
Published: 07/19/18
Updated: 07/20/18
Editorial: Ferry is fun but should pay for itself in long run

Editorial: Ferry is fun but should pay for itself in long run

The CrossBay Ferry appears headed for another round of rides across Tampa Bay, with local governments pledging one more year of financial support. But as more taxpayer money is steered into this project, it’s important to recognize what purpose the f...
Published: 07/18/18
Updated: 07/20/18
Editorial: Scott should order investigation of concealed weapons permitting

Editorial: Scott should order investigation of concealed weapons permitting

To his credit, Gov. Rick Scott says he is considering requests to order an independent investigation of how Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s office screens applications for concealed weapon permits. It’s a reasonable request, and the governor h...
Published: 07/18/18
Editorial: Algae blooms, toll woes and beach battles -- Florida’s fouled up summer

Editorial: Algae blooms, toll woes and beach battles -- Florida’s fouled up summer

July in Florida. The height of summer tourist season. Rental cars clog the highways and tourists crowd the beaches, motels and all-you-can-eat shrimp joints. Many of our neighbors are off to North Carolina or somewhere cooler. So it’s an awfully inco...
Published: 07/17/18
Updated: 07/20/18
Editorial: Sacrificing two kayaks and a Toyota for free speech

Editorial: Sacrificing two kayaks and a Toyota for free speech

Maggy Hurchalla joked this spring that all she could offer a billionaire who won a $4.4 million judgment against her after she exercised her free speech rights were "two kayaks and an aging Toyota.’’ The billionaire didn’t laugh. This week, Martin Co...
Published: 07/17/18
Updated: 07/18/18
Editorial: Trump sides with Putin over America

Editorial: Trump sides with Putin over America

In one of the most surreal news conferences of our time, President Donald Trump actually stood next to Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday and called the federal investigation into Russia’s meddling into the 2016 election "a disaster for our coun...
Published: 07/16/18
Editorial: A vote for preserving waterfront parks by St. Petersburg City Council

Editorial: A vote for preserving waterfront parks by St. Petersburg City Council

The St. Petersburg City Council made the appropriate but difficult decision to reject a contract with renowned artist Janet Echelman for one of her aerial sculptures. It would be wonderful for the city to have one of her signature works, but Spa Beac...
Published: 07/13/18

‘Everybody needed to know what happened’

The brutal murder of Emmett Till, a black Chicago youth, in Mississippi nearly 63 years ago went unpunished, but not forgotten. A decision by his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, to allow an open casket at Emmett’s Chicago funeral represented an act of def...
Published: 07/13/18