We can protect victims and reform criminal justice at the same time. This is how | Opinion

Meek Mill accepts a resolution from Philadelphia City Council honoring his criminal justice work. (Philadelphia City Council/Flickr)

By Sheryl Delozier

In Pennsylvania, crime victims and their advocates have worked hard over the last 20 years to convince lawmakers to enact some of the most comprehensive victims’ rights laws in the nation. Despite that, there still is no guarantee crime victims will have a voice in the criminal justice process.

That is why I am sponsoring Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania (HB276), to give constitutional protection to crime victims’ rights.

Having spent 25 years working with victims and their families, I know too well the number of times the victim’s voice was disregarded, leaving victims and their families victimized, yet again, and with no recourse.

Very simply, Marsy’s Law gives victims the mantle of the state constitution if someone tries to sidestep or trample their rights.

It’s important to understand, however, that elevating victims’ rights is not a zero sum game. Elevating the crime victim rights to the constitution does not diminish the rights of the accused and convicted.

I would argue that no one in the General Assembly respects the criminal justice process more than I do. And I believe that elevating crime victims’ rights and protecting the rights of the accused can coexist.

We need balance in our system, which is why I have sponsored Marsy’s Law as well as co-created the bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform Caucus, which aims to address issues that hinder the ability to successfully re-enter society after a criminal conviction. Common sense changes can happen for victims and those that have served their time.

Therefore, let’s be clear: Under Marsy’s Law, victims’ rights don’t trump defendants’ constitutional rights. Instead, Marsy’s Law gives victims a voice (not a veto) in the criminal justice process.

Pennsylvania is currently one of only nine states that does not incorporate victims’ rights into its constitution.

Clearly, the remainder of states across the country that already protect victims’ rights in their constitution have not run roughshod over the rights of the accused and convicted, nor have they clogged up the courts by ensuring victims’ rights are protected.

And states like Pennsylvania that have been late to the game are mending their constitutions. Just last year alone, Marsy’s Law was approved in six states, including Nevada, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. Clearly, they understand that we can reform our criminal justice system to protect victims without injuring defendants.

It’s important to remember how far we have come during this National Victims’ Rights Week, especially with its theme of “Honoring our Past, Creating Hope for the Future.” This is the time to act on that hope for the future and encourage our friends, families and lawmakers to support Marsy’s Law.

The General Assembly already unanimously approved Marsy’s Law last year. To amend the constitution, we must approve it again and then voters must approve it on the ballot this November. Crime has an everlasting impact on its victims. It is time to give them everlasting protection.

State Rep. Sheryl Delozier, a Republican, represents the Cumberland County-based 88th House District. She writes from Harrisburg.

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