Op Ed: The More You Know; the Safer You Are. Proposed Legislation Brings Georgia One Step Closer to a Statewide Automated Victim Notification System to Implement Victims’ Rights
By Professor Christine M. Scartz, University of Georgia School of Law Clinical Assistant Professor and Director of the Jane W. Wilson Family Justice Clinic and Marsy’s Law for Georgia Advisory Board Member
Stalkers can find their victims with just a few clicks or swipes in today’s online world. One might expect that after their stalkers’ arrests, victims would be able to get current information on their stalkers’ status with the same ease. Unfortunately, Georgia’s outdated criminal justice data infrastructure system has not caught up with 2022 digital access standards.
Currently, in Georgia, inmate and defendant data from jails and courts across our 159 counties is not consistently available electronically. In addition, communication between jails and courts and communication between different courts can be incomplete at best and dangerously nonexistent at worst.
Due to this piecemeal infrastructure, in many jurisdictions, crime victims are not automatically notified about the pre-trial release of their offenders or able to access updated information about their offenders’ criminal cases. Victims instead must rely on their lawyers or their advocates for information (if they have them), or themselves make many often-frustrating calls in search of the knowledge they need to make themselves safer. Victims must navigate a confusing and complex maze to find out information about the carceral or plea status of their perpetrator, which causes added mental distress on top of their safety fears.
Automatically providing victims with information about their offender’s criminal cases will empower victims to make informed decisions about protecting themselves. It will give victims a role in seeing justice served and a path towards healing. And, as a result of Marsy’s Law for Georgia approved by the voters in 2018, it is their constitutional right to have this information.
Victims have rights. Victims need knowledge. Victims deserve safety.
Lt. Governor Geoff Duncan's Criminal Record Responsibility Act (CRRA) calls for all Georgia criminal justice data to be uniformly entered into the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC) database. The CRRA would also create a unified, statewide automated victim notification (AVN) system for victims and their families to get consistent and accurate information pertaining to their cases.
The automated victim notification portion of the proposed legislation was presented to the Senate Judiciary on March 1, 2022, and is supported by both sides of the aisle. Passing the Criminal Record Responsibility Act would put Georgia on a course to give victims the information about court proceedings, custodial status, and their perpetrator’s criminal cases that will give them the power they need and deserve to make their lives safer.
We need to make it easy and efficient to increase victims’ safety. It’s time to implement the infrastructure necessary for Georgia victims to exercise the rights we overwhelmingly voted to enshrine in our State Constitution.
Let’s join together and support the Criminal Record Responsibility Act and make Georgia crime victims’ constitutional rights an accessible reality.