(*This opEd has been updated to correctly reflect Craig Stedman’s candidacy for the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas in the Nov. 5 general election.)
By Craig Stedman
News reports about crimes and convictions often focus on the perpetrator, what they did and why and the process of their trial. But often lost in the news coverage is another equally important voice in any criminal event, arrest or conviction: the victim.
Prosecutors go to work every day not just to uphold the law, but to stand with victims in their quest for justice. They are the reason we do what we do. That is why I, and many of my fellow district attorneys, are zealous advocates for the proposed Marsy’s Law constitutional amendment. And it is why many of us are confounded by the recent attempt by special interest groups to subvert this progress being made for victims.
Make no mistake, defendants deserve rights and due process throughout the criminal justice system, and those rights are already protected by the State and Federal constitutions. Contrary to recent assertions, Marsy’s Law would not conflict with these constitutional protections for the accused and convicted. Judges are well versed and highly skilled at balancing rights, which they already do on a daily basis.
But if victims’ rights are not also protected by the constitution, then they are meaningless.
For victims, having an active role in the process – a voice in court, updates on their alleged perpetrator’s case, the ability to confer with the prosecutor – is crucial to their recovery and closure following a criminal act. Marsy’s Law would fulfill all of those needs by making victims’ rights part of the state constitution, and do so without impacting due process.
Some folks might think of a prosecutor’s office as only a group of lawyers, but that misconception omits a crucial part of our team: our victim advocates. My office could not function without our advocates. Their daily work involves difficult conversations and heart-wrenching encounters with people who have been violated and are searching for answers. We know the last thing victims want is to feel re-victimized by a system they believe is in place to protect them and provide an avenue to justice. Our advocates do this important work without the foundation of the Constitution.
Marsy’s Law is named after a woman who was stalked and killed 35 years ago in California. Shortly after the horrific crime, Marsy’s mother and brother were encountered in a grocery store by the charged killed. They had no idea he had been released on bail.
Imagine the shock, anger and utter devastation felt by Marsy’s family. Let’s do all we can to assure such a situation can never happen in Pennsylvania. Marsy’s story reminds us that victimization is not about stats and numbers. It is about real people – people who did not deserve what happened to them.
Victims and their families put their trust in us, the prosecutors, at the worst times in their lives. Many of them will always remember being a victim and being at the mercy of their offender. So, we simply must have a system that honors and respects those who have suffered and those who have endured. Otherwise, they are being victimized all over again.
A prosecutor’s role is one of a kind – that is why many of us pursued this career. We do not represent a particular client; we represent the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. That daily crusade in courtrooms involves standing up for victims, holding their offenders accountable while providing the survivors a voice to say, “I am no longer your victim, no longer at your mercy.”
And survivors have waited long enough to have their voices be heard. I am confident that Marsy’s Law would not cause any harm to due process, and the Department of State has affirmed that the ballot question for Marsy’s Law is constitutional.
Now it’s time to take it to the voters of Pennsylvania.