Of the dozen proposed constitutional amendments on the November 6 ballot, four come from the Constitutional Revision Commission. In our series on those proposals -- and their possible local impact -- WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody leads off with Amendment-6, which deals with victims' rights.
The main part of the proposal is patterned after “Marsy’s Law” in California, named after a college student who was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. A-6 would establish a series of rights for crime victims. If approved by a 60 percent-plus one vote on November 6, it would further solidify laws which are already on the books.
“Our office is supportive of the new proposal,” said Greg Marcille, an Assistant State Attorney in the First Judicial Circuit. This is a good proposal, that it will be a positive for the judicial system and specifically the criminal justice system.”
There would be additional requirements placed on all state attorney offices in Florida. For one, it would give crime victims’ certain rights they otherwise wouldn’t have, especially with their involvement in the criminal justice proceeding.
“It enlarges their rights to be involved in the process and to be kept advised,” Marcille said. “Currently, victims in Florida do have substantial rights – more so than probably in many states – to be kept apprised and have the opportunity to be present at all proceedings. This enlarges those rights.”
When it comes to victims’ rights, one law enforcement expert says Florida has been at the tip of the spear.
“Back in the 1980s when the victims’ rights movement really took off in the United States we were the first state to place into the state constitution an actual amendment that did codify and articulate a series of rights for victims,” said Richard Hough, a 30-year law enforcement veteran and currently a criminal justice professor at the University of West Florida.
“We’re at a point where more than 30 states have this in the state constitution, and the rest have some form of legislation,” Hough said. “Now the move is to add a new state amendment to be, I think, more complete and more thorough in listing out what those rights are.”
And the proposal likely would change the way victims’ rights advocates do business.
“This actually specifies that both the state attorney’s office – with the permission of the victim as well as victim advocates – will have legal standing to assert rights on behalf of the victim, or perhaps in the case of a homicide victim, the surviving family members,” Hough said.
“The proposed Amendment-6 does not create constitutional rights for victims of crime; those rights already exist in the Florida Constitution,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. He says using the term “victims’ rights” likely will ensure numerous voters casting ballots for it. But he adds that A-6 – which doesn’t include funding for victims’ assistance -- is nothing but what he calls “misleading symbolism.”
“Victims of crime deserve dignity, respect; [and] they deserve assistance,” Simon contends. “Victims of crime need services [such as] transportation. They need lawyers; counseling, health care and housing. And that costs money. I’m hoping that voters are going to see through this.”
The proposal also carries unintended consequences which will undo itself, according to Simon He points to the removal of a key sentence in the constitution, which serves as a protection for the rights of the defendant.
“The last thing that we would want, is a constitutional pronouncement in Florida that says, ‘do whatever you can, even to the point where it ignores the constitutional rights of the accused,” said Simon. “The first time that somebody challenges that, this is not going t stand up.”
Supporters of Amendment-6 contend it gives crime victims more rights to be involved in their case, including negotiations on plea bargains. Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille says they would also have the opportunity to review and comment on pre-sentencing investigations. The proposal would also give additional rights to the state.
In essence, Marcille says it aims to give the same rights to the victims in criminal cases, as are now enjoyed by defendants.
“One of those rights defendants have is the right to a speedy trial; and it does provide a provision for the state – the prosecuting agency – to demand a speedy trial on behalf of the state – to more cases in a more timely manner,” said Marcille. “The court has to follow the same proceedings that they generally do if a defendant makes that demand.”
Another proposal bundled into Amendment-6 would raise the age limit for judges from the current 70 years old to 75. That, says Marcille, would benefit prosecutors.
“It will give an additional level of experience and it will allow experienced judges to continue to serve,” said Marcille. “Anytime you’re able to maintain an experienced judiciary that is an advantage to the criminal justice system and to the justice system as a whole.”
If voters approve Amendment-6, the ACLU’s Howard Simon says a legal challenge on the victims’ rights issue will be more than just a possibility.