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Ballot Proposal Would Ensure Crime Victims Have Their Say in Plea Agreements and Sentencing

| April 16, 2018

In Flagler County, victims routinely do so, and judges ask, during plea agreements and at sentencing, whether victims have been consulted. Victims also routinely address the court during sentencing hearings. (© FlaglerLive)

In Flagler County, victims routinely do so, and judges ask, during plea agreements and at sentencing, whether victims have been consulted. Victims also routinely address the court during sentencing hearings. (© FlaglerLive)

With the measure drawing support from state leaders and law-enforcement officials, Florida voters in November will decide whether to approve a proposed constitutional amendment that would spell out a series of rights of crime victims.

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission on Monday voted 34-3 to approve the measure (Proposal 6001), which largely focuses on a victims’ rights initiative known as “Marsy’s Law.”

The proposal, which will need support from 60 percent of voters in November, would seek to ensure the rights of victims to receive information and provide input during criminal cases. Also, for example, it would ensure victims have the right to talk with prosecutors about issues such as plea agreements, restitution and sentencing.

In Flagler County, victims routinely do so, and judges ask, during plea agreements and at sentencing, whether victims have been consulted. Victims also routinely address the court during sentencing hearings.

“The Sheriff’s Office remains committed to having additional protection in place for victims of crime in our State Constitution,” Sheriff Rick Staly said in a statement issued last week. “I greatly appreciate the Marsy’s Law group for their dedication to this issue and their hard work to get this proposal on the ballot for all voters.”

Commission member Tim Cerio, a Tallahassee attorney who sponsored the proposal, said Marsy’s Law is about “making sure victims have a right to be engaged in the process.”

Among other things, the proposal also would establish a right for the safety of victims and their family members to be considered when bail is set in criminal cases.

Before approving the proposal, the commission rejected a series of changes sought by member Hank Coxe, a Jacksonville defense attorney. One of the changes, for instance, sought to add wording that would have said victims are entitled to the rights “to the extent that these rights do not interfere with the constitutional rights of the accused.”

But with Cerio and others opposed, Coxe’s proposed changes were rejected. Coxe, former Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and Orlando attorney Rich Newsome voted against the overall proposal.

The Constitution Revision Commission approved the measure as it began taking final votes on a dozen proposals for the November ballot. The 37-member commission, which meets every 20 years, has the unique power to place issues on the ballot. Proposals need support of 22 members of the commission to advance.

Several of the proposed constitutional amendments bundle more than one issue. The measure including Marsy’s Law also would change a mandatory retirement age for state judges. If approved by voters, the age would go from 70 to 75.

The measure also includes a proposed change that would affect legal cases involving the interpretation of state laws or rules. The proposal would direct judges to not “defer to an administrative agency’s interpretation” of the laws or rules in the cases.

The commission Monday had a lengthy debate about whether the measure including Marsy’s Law and other proposed constitutional amendments should be “unbundled” — which would effectively require each issue to be voted on separately.

Commission member Roberto Martinez, a Coral Gables lawyer, argued the commission was bundling unrelated issues and that voters should be given clear choices on approving proposed constitutional amendments.

“Do they (the three issues in Proposal 6001) all deal with the courts? They do,” Martinez said. “But are they really related? They are not.”

But Brecht Heuchan, chairman of the commission’s Style and Drafting Committee, which bundled issues, said it was “absurd” to think voters would get confused. He and other commissioners defended the process, in part arguing that they were following precedents from when the commission put measures on the ballot in 1978 and 1998.

“The whole process is being attacked,” Heuchan said.

Commissioners rejected an attempt by Martinez to send the measure including Marsy’s Law back to the Style and Drafting Committee to be unbundled.

The Marsy’s Law proposal has drawn support in recent months from state leaders such as Gov. Rick Scott and many sheriffs and prosecutors. It also has the backing of Attorney General Pam Bondi, who serves on the Constitution Revision Commission.

The proposal is part of a broader national movement stemming from the 1983 death of a California woman, Marsy Nicholas, who was stalked and killed by an ex-boyfriend.

–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida

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5 Responses for “Ballot Proposal Would Ensure Crime Victims Have Their Say in Plea Agreements and Sentencing”

  1. palmcoaster says:

    This law should be also added to misdemeanor cases as drug users and dealers are let go on bail to reside in the same houses among families with children and elderly and once bailed out just to go back to the same old drug use and trafficking that brings criminals to those homes endangering all in the community and disturbing the peace and tranquility at all hours of day and night. Why we the victimized neighbors can’t request non trespass injunctions against these individuals to their judge and the DA in drug court? I been in court hearing the lies and fake cries of innocence and excuses by these females and males drug addicted/dealers begging to the judge to let them go…to their same old drug use and dealing to pay for them, as soon as they are released. Meanwhile I am spending half a day in court to not be allowed to say a word while the court release them on bail based in a bunch of lies.
    Here we have in our block one released from jail last December, incarcerated then these drug/deal use related situation and yesterday overdose, treated by our emergency services and back to the same house to continue trafficking and getting high. Meanwhile we have children living next door to both side of that house exposed to the criminal traffic in and out next door all hours of the day and night playing cat and mouse catch with our law enforcement.

  2. Jon Hardison says:

    As well intentioned as this may be, this will likely prove to be the basis for all sorts of “desirable problems”.

    Is our legal system in the business of justice or revenge?
    I agree there must be notifications. Victims must know what’s going on.
    But involving victims in sentencing, bail hearings, probation or parole may be a mistake that not only lengthens incarcerations but increases the value of anger or fear in an interaction where justice and rehabilitation are supposed to be the goal.

    Furthermore, one should expect a victims’ willingness to oppose a degree of leniency or consideration to correlate directly to the convicted’s social proximity to the victim. In other words, the more ‘alike’ the victim and criminal are, the more forgiving these interactions stand to become. So there is a chance more privilege or discrimination could seep into courtrooms as a result of laws like this.

    And how might this impact the election or reelection of quality Judges that choose to upload the law rather than concede a victim’s demands – or visa versa?

    This doesn’t pass the sniff test.
    I’ll admit I’m cynical but doesn’t this smell a little ‘Jim Crow-y’ to anyone else?

  3. Pogo says:

    @Follow the freaking money

    koch brother zombie cares about victims?

    Welcome to the kochshine state

    @Jon Hardison
    “…Is our legal system in the business of justice or revenge?…”

    That is the crux of the matter:

    Rule of law

    The crocodile tears for victims are real to the extent that they come from the same reptiles who are dedicated to destroying the separation of church and state, looting the treasury (reverse Robin Hood), and persecuting the poor. The only difference between trump and his full frontal stupidity, greed, and corruption – and the rest of the Republicans – is nothing.

    And so it goes.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Not a good move. People should not be influencing pleas or any part of punishment or restitution because they are acting on emotion and are not qualified. If this was to be the case then we don’t need the court system–just let victims handle their own affairs and do what they think needs to be done to those who violate them. Let us also remember just because someone is said to have done something doesn’t mean that they have….if people can’t afford an attorney they usually are forced to take a plea because they don’t have anyone to fight for them. It should be that a appointed public defender defends you and not stands by you expecting and encouraging you to take a plea….the prosecution should have to be forced to prove their case. You are innocent until proven guilty.

  5. Nancy N. says:

    I could not have said it better than Jon Hardison did.

    This amendment will introduce even more racism into our so-called justice system, and make the disposition of criminal cases even more about politics and vengence than they are now.

    Justice is supposed to be blind, not directed by the emotions and prejudices of victims.

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