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Victim-rights amendment - Marsy's Law - debated in first State House hearing

State House Bureau

February 06. 2018 10:52PM
Manchester resident John Cantin, whose daughter was murdered by her estranged husband, is accompanied by Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, at the first public hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment to protect victims' rights. (Dave Solomon/Union Leader)

CONCORD — At the first public hearing on Marsy’s Law, sexual assault survivors, lawmakers, victim advocates and civil rights attorneys clashed Tuesday over the need to enshrine victims’ rights in the state constitution.

The bill, which would add a list of victim protections to the state constitution, has broad bipartisan support in the Legislature and has been endorsed by Gov. Chris Sununu, who opened testimony on Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“We need to make sure this comes out of the Legislature with a real head of steam, so people across the state know it has our confidence and we’ve done our job in providing the backing and support,” said Sununu.

To successfully amend the constitution, the measure would have to pass the House and Senate by at least 60 percent majorities and then be approved in November on a statewide ballot by two-thirds of the votes cast, something that hasn’t been done in more than a decade.

Lissa Curtis of Somersworth, one of several crime victims to speak on behalf of Marsy’s Law, said the amendment is long overdue.

“When entering into the criminal justice process, the man who violated me, the man whose actions shattered my world, the man who raped me, is guaranteed more rights than I am. How can this be?” she said.

The law is named after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, a University of California student who was stalked and killed by her boyfriend in 1983.

The state already has a 22-point Victim Bill of Rights in statute, with guarantees that range from the right to be notified of all court activity to the right to testify at sentencing or parole hearings.

The proposed constitutional amendment contains many of the same guarantees, including the right to be provided notice of all legal proceedings; to be heard at those proceedings; to receive reasonable protection from the accused; to be given notice of any parole, release or escape of the convicted; and to receive restitution. But other portions of the proposed amendment caused concern for some elected officials and civil liberties activists.

Amendment presented

Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, presented an amendment to the bill that he said is necessary to avoid “serious hazards to due process.”

The change he is recommending would allow for the same victim rights, but with a qualifier: “A victim of a crime shall have the following rights to the extent that they are not inconsistent with the constitutional or statutory rights of the accused.”

Giuda also adds a provision that would exempt the state from any “cause of action” by a victim who claims the state failed to provide “reasonable protection from the accused,” as the amendment requires.

A representative of the N.H. Civil Liberties Union said that organization supports Giuda’s amendment, adding the group does not oppose a constitutional amendment protecting victims.

“Our concerns relate to the broad and undefined other rights, which we fear would lead to numerous unintended consequences and risk a New Hampshire state Constitution that would be in conflict with the United States Constitution,” said Jeanne Hruska, policy director for ACLU-NH.

A 2001 state Supreme Court ruling makes clear that enforcement of existing victims’ rights “is not subject to the discretion of public officials. The Attorney General’s office has a duty to enforce the rights enumerated.”

Courts Public Safety Politics New Hampshire

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Thank you, Sununu