A Closer Look With Sheriff Greg Countryman
Sheriff Greg Countryman is a 32-year law enforcement professional. Prior to being elected sheriff in 2020, he served 16 years as elected marshal of Muscogee County, Georgia. Sheriff Countryman is the only person in the history of Muscogee County to ever be elected as both marshal and sheriff. He is also the first African American to hold the Office of the Sheriff since its inception in 1828. Sheriff Countryman is a 21st-century thinker who believes in serving the community as a whole and leaving an imprint in the minds of those he serves.
As a long-time member of the law enforcement community, how do you believe Marsy’s Law for Georgia is helping victims and survivors of crime?
I think that the main thing for me is that Marsy’s Law gives the victims a voice, and it gives them a role in the process. When your rights aren't officially recognized, you can't communicate, tell your story, or show your pain. So, the mere fact that Marsy’s Law gives victims official recognition acts as a force multiplier in the courtroom adding their voices to the prosecutor’s case.
I love that piece — just knowing that victims have rights, not only just the right to be heard but the right to receive payment for damages or to file an objection if that convicted individual is being considered for parole from prison.
I know from past experience that elected officials are often the first to be contacted to write letters on behalf of my voters — my constituents — for family members hoping to get out of prison. However, the good thing about Marsy’s Law, is that it strengthens the fight on behalf of the victims, giving them the right to present their side as to why they don't think that this person should be allowed to get out of prison for parole.
That's a lot of power. Yes, Marsy's Law is one of the strongest pieces of court privileges that any victim can have.
Since Marsy’s Law passed in your state in 2018, what differences have you seen take place in the court system?
I think that having more victim/witness advocates now in the court system highlights these changes because speaking for victims has to be done not only at the local law enforcement level but also has to be done through the office of the district attorney. We have advocates here in Muscogee County in the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, and they do an excellent job of advocating for the victims. I think they play a critical part in the court system.
In addition, when communities hold annual candlelight vigils and read the list of names of victims, it not only draws attention to the number of victims there are but highlights the dire need for advocates for these victims of crime who are no longer able to speak for themselves.
Which component of Marsy’s Law stands out most to you and why?
For me, it’s just the right of the victim to know when their accused has been arrested, released from prison, or even escaped. Because, when a victim sees the accused convicted and sentenced, that's part of the closure. But that's only part of it, there has to be a healing process also. Marsy’s Law gives them time to heal.
If a victim doesn’t know that this person is out on parole and they happen to go to the grocery store, or to church, or to a local basketball game and see this person, the trauma that comes along with that can cause the victim to relapse. So, when victims have proper notice, it alleviates the situation because they can prepare, get their minds in order and they can have the tools available to them to help them to get through this.
I'm just putting myself in the shoes of a victim because you never know what a person is dealing with and how they're dealing with it. You never want to compound a tragedy with another tragedy — especially a preventable one — because a victim may be on the verge of breaking and being caught off guard.
As you've worked to spread awareness about Marsy's Law in Georgia, what has been the response from those you work with and in your community?
Well, for those who I work closely with, we all know that Marsy’s Law is necessary — the judges, and the prosecutors, all know that this law is very critical and essential. As I mentioned earlier, Marsy’s Law serves as a force multiplier to help strengthen the rights of the victims of crimes.
I like to think of it as where we can all meet at the same place and combine all the pieces to make a whole. A place where the law enforcement, the victims of the crime, and the prosecutors of the crime come together with all the pieces to make what I like to call a ‘three-court rope,’ which is something that is very, very hard to break. And so as long as law enforcement, the victims of crime, and the prosecutors can all be on the same page, that is a very strong bond.