It looks as though it is finally official. The "Crime Victim's Bill of Rights" will be added on the state ballot for November of 2018 as SQ 794.
If the amendment were to pass, this would not simply be a "new law"...it would add specific rights of crime victims to the Oklahoma Constitution. These rights would include, but are not limited to:
- allowing the victim to be heard during court proceedings...
- adding the right to "reasonable protection"...
- adding timely notice of a defendant's release or escape...
- allowing full restitution and assistance with collecting restitution...
- allowing timely notice to victims regarding outcome of cases...
- adding the right to contest delays in the criminal proceedings...
- adding the right to confer with prosecutors for the government...
- adding the right to have a say in the disposition of the case and
- allowing victims to refuse interviews or deposition requests from the defendant.
Here's the big issue though: most of these "rights" are already incorporated into general practice, and even some statutory authority, without the necessity of being added to the Oklahoma Constitution.
Let me give you a ground-level perspective as to how these "rights" are already in effect. First and foremost, victims already have all of these rights in Oklahoma to some degree or another. Don't believe me? Let's track them in the order listed above:
- There are definitely already plenty of times when victims are allowed to speak at court proceedings. There are preliminary hearings, blind (judge) pleas, trials, and sentencing hearings. I would bet money that if you asked the majority of victims if they wanted to appear in court and speak or testify, they'd probably answer in the negative. Having to speak in court is not fun.
- I have no idea what "reasonable protection" contemplates or includes (and I bet supporters of this amendment don't either), but I can tell you that victims of crime that have reasonable reasons to fear for their safety can easily get a protection order against the defendant, at least while the case is pending, and definitely after a conviction.
- Victims can already track a certain offender in custody through the Oklahoma government.
- Victims already have the right to restitution. Moreover, it is a criminal violation of probation to fail to pay restitution. Furthermore, there is a fund set up by the government. Its called The Crime Victims' Compensation Program, and EVERY criminal defendant in the state of Oklahoma is assessed a victim compensation assessment fine when they plead or are otherwise convicted of a crime.
- Victims already have timely notice as to the entire process of the case. All they have to do is go to oscn.net and search. It's extremely easy.
- Victim's should have no say in "delays" to the criminal process. They are not generally attorneys, and they generally have no idea how a criminal case works in practice. Moreover, every case is different. Some cases can be taken care of very quickly, and other cases take years.
- Victims already have the right to confer with prosecutors. I can't tell you how many times I have tried to negotiate a case, only to hear the prosecutor say, "my victim will never go for that." I've had more cases than I can count where the prosecution is victim-driven, so much so to the point where the victim already has to "okay" a certain plea offer from the government. Be careful what you wish for, though. If this amendment were added, then criminal victims should also have the constitutional right to demand that a case be dismissed. Domestic violence prosecutions will be cut in half, easily. That's big chunk of change the government will lose, not to mention the companies that oversee the mandatory 52-week "Batterers Intervention Program" that anyone who pleads to a domestic violence charge must complete.
- Like I mentioned earlier, many of the prosecutions in Oklahoma are already victim-driven. And again, victims are not usually attorneys. They do not know the law. Sometimes the law isn't favorable to a certain victim's set of circumstances. That is why every county in our state has an elected District Attorney who hires Assistant District Attorneys to use their legal skills to prosecute crimes properly while also disposing of those situations that are not criminal.
- First and foremost, criminal defense attorneys don't really have the right to depose victims in a criminal case. There are very rare circumstances when it could be allowed, but I've never seen it ordered by a judge. On top of that, victims already have the right to refuse an interview with a criminal defense attorney on behalf of the criminal client. We can't make anyone speak to us unless they are subpeoned to an evidentiary hearing or trial. If SQ 794 aims to modify or combat a human's right to confront their accuser, well...the proposal may be more ridiculous than anyone previously thought.
I say "a human's right to confront their accuser," because that's what we already have in place. We have a Bill of Rights. Its for all humans; not just defendants, but victims as well. Hell, you don't even have to be a citizen to be afforded its protections. We need to focus on protecting and preserving THOSE RIGHTS before we worry about adding others for certain subsections of society.
Marsy's Law will do nothing but cost our state more money. I'm not quite sure how, but I can damn near guarantee it for two reasons: 1) the website promoting it lists the economic impact as one of the few highlighted faqs, and 2) the site's answer is: "Cost should not prevent us from doing what is right."
True, but that is fairly defensive. There will be costs. There are always costs to implement any changes in the law.
Think of the man power prosecutors will have to expend if and when some victims, who are completed consumed by the crime committed against them, continually and continuously contact the prosecution asserting their "constitutional right" to be heard?
I've practiced plenty, and I can tell you that prosecutors already have to speak with victims more than they need to. Rule number one for the prosecution is probably "never give your cell phone to a victim."
Other costs would likely come with the implementation of a new notification system. If the systems currently in use aren't up to snuff (we don't need a constitutional amendment if they are), then we will have to spend money that the state doesn't have to implement different systems...or pay some company from out of state to install and/or run it.
If our current notification systems do in fact get the job done, then again, there is no need for a constitutional amendment!
As Oklahomans, lets focus on something else instead of more crime-related issues. Our prison and county jail system is already broken. Let's focus on something we can fix. Let's focus on education.
Maybe if all of our students had their own study materials, we wouldn't have as many criminals creating victims.