During the past legislative session, I had the opportunity to speak on the Senate floor in support of SJR 103, a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would provide equal rights for crime victims.
I shared an experience from my youth on the floor of the Idaho Senate to help illustrate my strong support for SJR 103, commonly known as Marsy’s Law for Idaho. I would like to share that story with you to explain why I will continue to support Marsy’s Law for Idaho when it comes back next session.
Many years ago, I went to the courthouse to take care of some business. As I walked by a courtroom, I decided to pop in to see firsthand how the justice system works. As I sat in court observing the process, it became clear to me that defendants have more rights and are given more consideration than victims.
Defendants entered pleas and the judge handed out penalties. He was very mattered of fact, even stern, as he issued fines for various minor infractions, but as the severity of the crime increased his demeanor changed. I noticed this especially when a young man in a prison jumpsuit, cuffs, and leg irons approached the bench. I realized he had done more than run a stop sign, so I listened intently. I expected the judge to go after this young man aggressively, but to my surprise, his cadence changed. He spoke more softly and with more consideration than he had done with any of the other visitors that day.
The judge explained in great detail the defendant’s rights, the court procedures, his right to receive appointed counsel, and the meticulous depiction of the timelines of due process. He did all of that for a young man accused of rape. I understand the judge was bending over backward to make sure he was procedurally correct from the bench to lessen appeals that might be open to the accused. He was also respectful of the notion that this young man may not have been guilty. I understand that. But, even though that experience was nearly 40 years ago, I left that courtroom with burning, still unanswered questions.
I’ve often wondered if the victim was afforded the same consideration, the same equal access to process or court procedures, and a clear understanding of the range of sanctions the accused might be facing. Did they understand what a plea bargain might mean? Did they receive some assurance that their voice would be heard and their safety assured? And maybe most importantly, did they receive the same level of respect as the accused?
I think it’s extremely important and past time that we bend over backward to respect those that are the victims of crime. A victims’ rights resolution moves us in the direction of achieving that equilibrium. I urge your support for Marsy’s Law for Idaho to provide victims a voice in the process and the respect they deserve.
This column was written by state Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-Inkom.