Unless you’re a constitutional law expert – and most of us are decidedly not – you probably have a vague knowledge or have gleaned enough from television and movies to know that the Constitution carries certain rights for anyone accused of a crime. If you are fortunate enough not to have been personally involved in a serious crime, you probably haven’t thought too much about the other end of that equation – victims’ rights and how they are formally protected in our constitution.
The fact is victims’ rights are not specified like those who are accused of crime. Though it doesn’t seem possible when you stop and think about that reality, there are no enumerated rights for victims spelled out in either the U.S. Constitution or in 15 state constitutions, including North Carolina.
North Carolina does have some victims’ rights protections in its constitution, but often they are not applied consistently from county to county which can lead to unfortunate gaps in the system leaving victims behind. This inconsistent application can mean victims – and their families – don’t understand the court schedule and process, leaving them unable to participate in a trial or plea; or even not being informed when the accused gets released with bail before trial among other possible gaps in the process.
While victims are certainly viewed with sympathy by society, many people don’t realize the current limitations of victims’ rights.
Marsy’s Law of North Carolina seeks to amend the state constitution on behalf of victims’ rights, joining five other states that have already passed amendments and eight others currently seeking to amend state constitutions. All of these important amendments are based on the notion that victims deserve their basic rights and to be part of the subsequent criminal process. Rights like notice of court hearings and having judges consider a victims’ safety before bail is granted.
You don’t have to be a constitutional expert to agree that this is common sense fairness to better protect victims of crimes and the right direction for North Carolina. Granting victims co-equal rights as the accused is simply the right thing to do.