Crime victims amendment raises questions about funding, resources

Posted October 25, 2018 6:15 p.m. EDT
Updated October 29, 2018 4:18 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina voters are being asked this fall whether to amend the state constitution to expand the rights of crime victims.

Supporters of Marsy’s Law, named after a California murder victim, say it would make it easier for victims and their families to negotiate a complex, often confusing, court system. But others question the need for the change and the resources that will back it up, if voters approve it.

"I have been for it all along," said Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison. "We are looking after that person that did the crime, but the families are the ones that are suffering."

Marsy's Law would require courts to better involve crime victims in a wider range of cases. Victims would also be notified when the person who committed the crime against them gets out of jail.

North Carolina currently has a Crime Victim's Bill of Rights, which allows for victims to be notified of some court proceedings and the status of appeals. They also have a right to be heard.

Harrison says he gets phone calls from crime victims all the time.

"'Can you tell me when he's going to be tried? Can you tell me when she's going to be tried? Is she going to court? Can I be there? I want to hear what they say. I want to have my voice in it.' And a lot of times, they don't get it," Harrison said.

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said she favors better serving victims.

Her concern with the amendment is in the details, such as finding the money and resources it would take to put the new requirements into practice.

"Really, if the legislature is concerned about victims' voices being heard and victims getting the attention they need, the first they need to do is adequately fund the court," Freeman said.

Without that, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina says, Marsy’s Law would clog the judicial system and hurt a defendant's right to due process.

"This is potentially going to create many more log jams that don't exist and that we don't have the resources for right now," said Susanna Birdsong with the ACLU of NC.

"Yes, it will cause more burden, but to me, it is worth it," Harrison said.