ICYMI: “Ballot Question Would Strengthen Crime Victims’ Rights”
– The News-Gazette, By Christine Des Garennes
Almost 25 years ago, after her sister, brother-in-law and their unborn child were murdered in suburban Chicago, Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins was told that because the killer would receive a mandatory life-without-parole sentence, the court would not take victim impact statements.
Still reeling from the murders and feeling emotionally battered from the trial, she and her family didn’t know they had the right to deliver those statements.
“For my family, it was not just about the emotional satisfaction about making the victim impact statement, but also about putting it in the record, making sure the victim’s voice and story is in the record,” she said.
For example, what if a criminal has a new appeal years later, a judge reviews the case and there is no record of what he took from the lives that were lost and what that meant to the survivors.
Bishop-Jenkins and other supporters of the Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights want to make sure “if victims want to make a victim impact statement, if they want to attend a hearing, if they want to ask for restitution, if they want to have a support person with them during the trial, if they want to be kept safe and notified about things that pertain to their safety, they’ll have the right, an enforceable right to do that,” she said.
Bishop-Jenkins is executive director of Marsy’s Law of Illinois. The group has been advocating for an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that would ensure victims or their surviving family have the ability to address a court if their rights have been violated. They’re asking voters to vote yes on Nov. 4. The proposed amendment also is known as Marsy’s Law, named after the California law that affords protections for crime victims there.
Marsy’s Law is named after murder victim Marsy Nicholas, who was killed by an ex-boyfriend in 1983 in California. Her brother, Henry Nicholas, has been an advocate for victim’s rights ever since. After visiting her daughter’s grave, Nicholas’ mother saw the accused killer in the grocery store; she had not been informed that he had been released on bail.
Illinois crime victims have had constitutional rights, such as the right to be informed of the release of the accused and to be notified of hearings, thanks to an amendment passed more than 20 years ago, said Polly Poskin, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
But it’s not enforceable, she said.
State’s attorneys promote and support victims’ rights, but occasionally there are glitches and there are rights denied to victims in the prosecutorial process or in court, Poskin said. A series of statewide roundtables organized by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan several years ago backed up that claim. Victims said they were not notified about hearings, didn’t know about plea negotiations, didn’t know they could deliver victim impact statements.
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