Marsy’s Law Will Help Victims Navigate The Justice Process

No one expects to be a victim of a crime. But when you are, the world crashes down around you. You want a remedy, justice, simply a return to what you had before. And you want the system to work for you to get there as quickly and smoothly as possible.

I’ve experienced this from both sides — as a victim of crime and as a law enforcement officer.

When I was 17, my 8-year-old brother Ryan was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and murdered by a repeat sex offender. That unthinkable experience is part of the reason I became a police officer, serving for 18 years in Montana.

My experiences also led me to start a national organization called Ryan United, dedicated to helping victims of child sexual assault and abduction. Today Ryan United has trained law enforcement officers in all 50 states on sex offender management, child abduction response, and how to relate with families who are in a painful situation.

And my experiences are also the reason that I’m such a staunch supporter of Marsy’s Law for Montana, a proposed amendment to our state Constitution that would establish a Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights.

From my view on the front lines of crime and victims’ issues, I can tell you that Montana’s law enforcement and prosecutors are among the finest in the country. The way we treat victims of crimes in our state — with compassion and humanity — is a model for others to follow.

But sometimes our criminal justice system isn’t designed with the victim in mind, and that’s what Marsy’s Law will address.

We all know that an individual accused of a crime has rights protected by our Constitution — but we don’t currently provide that same Constitutional-level rights for victims in Montana. That’s a problem because when the rights of the accused come in conflict with the rights of the victim, the rights of the accused always trump.

Elevating victims’ rights to the Constitutional level will empower victims of crimes by ensuring they’re on an even playing field.

The victims’ rights Marsy’s Law would protect are simple and straightforward. For instance, victims should have the right to be notified of all the proceedings happening in their case and the right to be present and be heard, when appropriate, at those proceedings.

A victim should have the right to be notified of any change in the custodial status of an offender in their case. And above all, victims should have the right to be treated with courtesy, fairness, and respect throughout the criminal justice process.

Montana is just one of 18 states that do not yet afford Constitutional rights to victims. We can change that with Marsy’s Law.

I work with victims of crime almost every day, and I know how big a difference Marsy’s Law will make in their individual situations. I hope you’ll join me in passing Marsy’s Law for Montana.

Derek VanLuchene is a former police officer and the founder of Ryan United, a Helena-based national nonprofit group focused on helping families victimized by child abduction and sexual assault.