CAGLE: Victims Deserve Constitutional Protections

April 10, 2018

"This year, as we recognize National Crime Victims’ Rights Week from April 9-13, Georgians have a call to action.

During the recently completed legislative session both houses of the Georgia General Assembly unanimously passed Marsy’s Law for Georgia, an effort to put crime victims’ rights in our state constitution. As with all constitutional amendments, voters will get the final say on the matter this November.

We all know that the accused and convicted have constitutional rights, and Marsy’s Law in no way interferes with those guarantees that ensure every American gets due process. What Marsy’s Law does is give equal rights to crime victims and their survivors.

These simple protections give victims the right to notifications from the legal system when there are important events in the legal cases of those who hurt them. They will be told when there’s a court hearing for the accused; they will be told when there’s a bail or parole hearing for the convicted. They will get the chance to speak in court if they wish and they’ll be able to give their input to the prosecutor.

These rights are already in state law, and many jurisdictions across Georgia already provide these services quite well. But the rights aren’t consistently applied and there’s currently no recourse for victims if their rights are violated. When victims have constitutional rights, they will be able to go straight to the judge and demand a remedy if these rights are violated.

For victims, these rights give them the ability to take steps to protect themselves when the person who injured them is released from custody. For some, it could mean the difference between life and death.

That was certainly the case for Tamiko Lowry Pugh of Austell, whose former husband was arrested after beating and choking her until she passed out. He was released without her knowledge, and he showed up at a house that Pugh, a real estate agent, was showing. He beat her again, and she was lucky to escape with her life.

Genie Smith Bernstein of Athens has told the story of her aunt, a venerated member of her rural Georgia community. A young man she knew broke into her home and raped her. He was arrested, and she worked to rebuild her life with some success. Ten years later, he was released from prison without her knowledge, broke into her home, and raped her again. By then elderly, she suffered physical injuries that plagued her for the rest of her life.

We can stop these gut-wrenching stories from happening to more Georgia families. Enacting Marsy’s Law for Georgia won’t take away the trauma that victims have suffered, but it might take away the fear that their attacker will be released from custody without their knowledge.

I’m proud of the work we’ve done over the past eight years to reform our criminal justice system in ways that have lowered the cost to taxpayers while getting better outcomes. Many of these changes seek to prevent recidivism by helping nonviolent offenders change their ways. Just as these reforms will help offenders get their lives back on track, Marsy’s Law for Georgia will help victims get their disrupted lives back on track, too.

Georgia is one of only 14 states that don’t have crime victims’ rights in their state constitutions, and numerous other states will vote on Marsy’s Law at the same time we do. Let’s make sure that next year’s National Crime Victims’ Rights Week we can celebrate that Georgians hurt by criminals now have constitutional rights."

Danny Kanso
(404) 656-5030