INTRODUCTION TO THE CRIME VICTIMS’ RIGHTS ACT (MARSY’S LAW)
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
Historically, NCVAN received a high volume of calls from homicide victims indicating that a significant number of surviving loved ones of homicide were never informed of their rights. If/when they suddenly learned they had rights – either during court proceedings or at the very end – it was too late and there was no recourse or “remedy”. This reality was the primary reason NCVAN supported Marsy’s Law.
While it is true that the former NC Crime Victims’ Rights Act gave rights to the victim that are much like those in our current Crime Victims’ Rights Act (Marsy’s Law), many of those rights were qualified by “…as prescribed by law” – so the previous amendment, in effect, deferred to statute. Marsy’s Law goes a step further by eliminating the “…as prescribed by law” and elevating victims’ rights by offering constitutional protection that is not qualified by statute. Simply put, the effect of the previous victims’ rights amendment could be somewhat fluid by changing applicable statutes – so how those rights played out on the ground was left to the whim of potentially changing statutes.
Furthermore, the strengthening of victims’ rights, through Marsy’s Law, now allows crime victims to petition the court when/if they are not afforded their rights during the court process. This is a remedy available to victims under our current Crime Victims’ Rights Act (Marsy’s Law) that was not present in the previous Crime Victims’ Rights Act.
NCVAN’s belief is that the process of affording victims their rights, as a result of the previous amendment, was less than satisfactory and resulted in victims being forgotten. We believe that the current Victims’ Rights Amendment (Marsy’s Law) will improve the way NC protects and serves victims by requiring process improvement, through policy and procedure, to ensure remedy is available to victims who are not afforded their rights – something the previous amendment failed to do. NCVAN is committed to process improvement efforts (checks and balances) that will prevent inadvertent oversight of victims thrown into a complicated process (court system) at a time when they are most vulnerable – through no fault of their own – a process that is most often alien to anything they have ever experienced.
So, where are we now? While many agencies around the state continue to work on improving their processes to ensure compliance with the new Crime Victims’ Rights amendment, the national and state Marsy’s Law teams have convened an advisory committee of North Carolina’s key stake holders to gauge where North Carolina is regarding transitioning; what kind of barriers exist; and how systems can collaborate to improve outcomes for key agencies tasked with notifying victims of their rights and for victims of crime as well.
The first step in ensuring compliance is understanding the responsibilities and requirements outlined in the new Crime Victims’ Rights Act. NCVAN has invested time breaking down the entire amendment in a way we think is easier for lay people/crime victims to follow and to understand. This information can also be used by criminal justice officials as a quick reference that is plainly written and easy to navigate.