Pennsylvania crime victims, survivors and their families have joined forces over the years and worked hard to seek justice and adequate support services. It is important during this year’s National Crime Victims’ Rights Week to take a moment to appreciate how far we have come in the commonwealth and how much has been accomplished in ensuring crime victims are an integral part of our justice system.
But we also know our work is never done, which is highlighted by the rights’ week theme this year—Expand the Circle: Reach All Victims.
Pennsylvania has a strong system of statutory laws to protect crime victims, but they, their families and their advocates can all share heartbreaking stories of cracks in that protective layer. The stories of victims not being allowed to testify or not being told of a defendant’s release are heartbreaking.
I have spent 25 years working with victims and their families and have shared their pain one too many times when they were lost in the shuffle and re-victimized by our criminal justice system. In those times when the laws are disregarded, the already victimized have no options.
That is why I am the prime sponsor of HB 1993, known as Marsy’s Law that will, indeed, ensure we reach all victims. Marsy’s Law would give victims constitutional rights on par with those of the accused and convicted. It would put our families, neighbors, friends and colleagues whose lives have been forever altered by crime on equal footing with the accused and the convicted.
The impetus for Marsy’s Law stems from tragic circumstances. It is named after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas of California, who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. A week after her death, Marsy’s mother and brother, Henry T. Nicholas, walked into a grocery store where they were confronted by the accused murderer. The family, fresh from visiting Marsy’s grave, was unaware that the accused had been released on bail.
To honor his sister, Dr. Nicholas has made it his life’s mission to give victims and their families constitutional protections and equal rights.
What Dr. Nicholas and his family have been through should never happen again. Surprisingly, Pennsylvania is one of only 15 states whose constitution does not enumerate rights for victims.
I am honored to be working with Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania to educate the public on the need for these much-needed protections. Specifically, Marsy’s Law would guarantee crime victims the right to:
- Receive information about their rights
- Receive notification of proceedings in their criminal cases
- Be present at court proceedings
- Be heard at plea and sentencing proceedings
- Be treated with fairness, respect and dignity
Enacting these protections will take a long-term commitment. Amending the state’s constitution requires the change to be approved in two consecutive legislative sessions, followed by voter approval in a ballot referendum. Fortunately, the measure already has been approved by the Senate.
Crime victims in Pennsylvania deserve the same respect we afford the criminals who harmed them. National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is the perfect time to encourage our friends, families, neighbors, communities and policymakers to support Marsy’s Law. Pennsylvania’s crime victims deserve equal rights.