North Carolina Victims Deserve the Right to be Heard

The vast majority of us never have to deal with law enforcement, the court system or have to hire a lawyer. We may get a traffic violation or called to serve on a jury, but beyond those run-of-the-mill exposures to the process of justice, most citizens have a limited knowledge of how the court system works.

Unfortunately for victims, they are thrust into a system that they do not understand because they’ve never been involved before they were victimized against their will. For victims of crime, who are attempting to put their lives back together, there is an additional layer of complication learning a complex court system and all that goes with it.

There is a combination of important, high-level questions mixed with everyday details: Where is the accused having the first hearing? How do you get there, and park? Is there a role for victims or their families in the proceeding? Are victims responsible for reaching out to prosecutors? When is the next step? What happens if it is postponed? Will we know if the accused is released? Is there a legal right to tell the court system what occurred in the course of the crime, even if nobody has asked?

If you are a father whose son was murdered attending a court proceeding and learn that the accused is being let go due to lack of evidence, what recourse do you have to speak out – to tell your side of the story? The reality is none, by law. This is not a hypothetical circumstance, but a real instance, occurring in North Carolina.

One of the steps Marsy’s Law for North Carolina will take on behalf of victims is the right to be present – and heard – at a court proceeding. Though many courts in the state take great effort to include victims – often needed as witnesses – it is not guaranteed by constitutional law.

But it is for the accused. They have the guaranteed right to choose to be heard during the proceedings against them – more than North Carolina victims currently have. Marsy’s Law promotes co-equal rights for victims of crime that are already given to the accused and convicted. One such co-equal right is the right to be heard. Don’t North Carolina victims deserve to be heard – during court proceedings? In order for the scales of justice to truly reach a balance, victims must have the same rights as the accused.