Crime victims rights’ bill faces crucial legislative deadline
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Alleged offenders and convicted criminals all have constitutionally protected rights, but that's not true for all victims and their families.
Hawai'i is one of 18 states that doesn't guarantee victims of violent crimes will be notified about court proceedings -- or major developments in their case -- like a convicted rapist being released on parole.
Marsy's Law for Hawai'i would change that. The bill is named after Marsy Nicholas a UC Santa Barbara student who was shot by her ex-boyfriend. A week after the murder, her family was confronted by the accused killer, who they didn't know was released on bail.
The legislation would amend Hawai'i's constitution to give victims of crime, and their families, permanent and enforceable rights to help them navigate an unfamiliar judicial system.
"32 other states have this and many have had these laws for decades -- 20 and 30 years. They've made this work because it's the right thing to do and that's basically what the law enforcement agencies that support Marsy's Law have said to us, 'Let's make it work'," said Stacy Evensen, the state director of Marsy's Law for Hawai'i.
Officials say more than 140 victims have testified before lawmakers in support of the bill since January.
"My ex-fiancé's last words to me before he left were, 'If you ever call the cops, get a TRO on me -- I know where your daughter goes to school and I will make sure that you never see her again'," said Mai Hall, a Marsy's Law advocate.
Hall was forced to leave two different jobs in an attempt to keep her family safe, but she wasn't able to protect herself from identity theft. Seven years after her abusive ex-fiancé took out a credit card in her name and maxed it out -- she's still paying off his debt.
"The right to restitution. I never knew that word existed. I didn't know that I could've had him pay for the medical services and the financial debt that he had accrued under my name," said Hall.
Marsy's Law would guarantee her that right -- and many others, like ensuring victims can provide input before prosecutor's finalize a plea agreement and the right to be present at court proceedings.
"This is really important for victims because you can imagine, as a healing mechanism, the right to participate to have your voice and information heard is really therapeutic," explained Evensen.
As a constitutional amendment -- if passed, it would go on a ballot and be up to Hawaii residents to decide. Officials say a recent poll indicates 73% of voters support it.
"There's already a statute that's supposed to protect victims and their families in these situations but the testimony has been pretty overwhelming in the Judiciary committee that it hasn't been all that effective," said state Representative Karl Rhoads (D - Kalihi, Palama, Iwilei, Chinatown) who chairs the House Judiciary committee.
Officials say the bill has the support of the state Attorney General. It needs to pass both the House and Senate
floors by a two-thirds majority, but it still faces a legislative hurdle to get there -- a final hearing before the House Finance committee by April 8.
Experts say Marsy's Law would ensure victims' rights aren't trumped by
the constitutional rights of the accused. It also provides notification and access to available services and the right to be treated with fairness and respect.
"It would basically say that I'm valued. Nowhere in the bill does it say it would give victim's a voice and value -- but the interpretation of those rights being activated would amount to every single one of us feeling valued, feeling like we belong and that we have a voice and we matter. To get the help, the psychological help, the emotional help, the financial help -- and kind of cradle, lift this family, my family -- to get the help and support that we needed and to say it's okay. To have the state say that and recognize this bill means the world to each and every one of us," said Hall.
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