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Domestic Violence Victims May be Shut Out of Bill

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RALEIGH — A plan to protect battered women may be losing its bite... one tooth at a time. Critics say legislative politics have taken a bill that started out strong and weakened it.

The Victim's Rights Bill has been through more ups and downs than a roller coaster. Voters passed an amendment to create the bill in 1996, but it is still not law.

The bill will cover victims in felony cases. But just yesterday, a House Committee decided to exclude victims of misdemeanor domestic violence. This has a lot of people concerned.

About 90% of the people who come through Wake County's domestic violence courtroom are charged with misdemeanor assault. As it stands now, victims in these cases may not be included in the victim's rights bill.

Prosecutor Stephanie Jenkins believes cutting this group out is a mistake.

Listen toauorReal Audiofile."They've not only suffered domestic violence at the hands of someone they love, but they are thrust into a court system, that they don't understand. I think it's important that they have some understanding and someone to help lead them through it."The bill would give victims the right to be informed about all court proceedings. Marie French counsels domestic violence victims. She says all victims of domestic violence need to be included in the bill.

Listen toauorReal Audiofile."They definitely need it, it's life and death for many of our clients. They need to know where is the person, when is the court date coming up, have they been served, have they gotten out of"jail. And it can mean their life.Lawmakers, like Senator Roy Cooper, (D) Rocky Mount, say money is the issue. It's estimated that it would cost $1.3 million to aid the 30,000 victims in this group.

Listen toauorReal Audiofile."It's obvious that we should do it, the question is financial. The $1.3 million cost seems to be a small price to pay for allowing victims of domestic violence to be included."

The cost of the entire bill is estimated at $9.7 million. It still has to go through another committee before it gets to the House and Senate floors -- which means there's still a chance that domestic violence victims could be re-inserted in the bill.

Under the amended proposal:
  • The victim would have the right to be notified of all hearings related to the case and the right to be present at those hearings. He or she could give their side in a victim impact statement instead.
  • Victims would also be able to talk with prosecutors before any major decisions are made in their case.
  • They would also have the right to receive restitution.
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    Amanda Lamb, Reporter
    Chad Flowers, Photographer
    Michelle Singer, Web Editor

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