DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds and acting Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg on Monday threw their support behind an effort underway at the Statehouse to write victims’ rights into the Iowa Constitution.
The governor was joined by victims’ rights advocates, law enforcement, elected county officials and legislators at her weekly news conference. Reynolds said Iowa needs to join 34 other states that have enacted Marsy’s law, a movement started in California that backers say ensures crime victims and their families are provided the same constitutional rights as the accused.
Marsy Nicholas was a California college student who was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983.
“The Legislature has proven in the past that when it comes to protecting the safety and welfare of Iowans, they are able to put politics aside and do what’s in the best interest of the state,” Reynolds said.
“This issue should be no different. All victims of crime deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Bills to make the proposed constitutional change currently are under consideration by subcommittees in the House and Senate with provisions to keep victims’ notified of any proceedings or status change for the accused perpetrator. Changes also would allow victims to have a voice in legal proceedings, ensure reasonable protection from the accused and to enforce restitution resulting from the financial impact of the crime.
“I have heard gut-wrenching stories from victims who feel that the rights of their perpetrator were greater than theirs,” said Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, who participated in Monday’s briefing. “We must do all we can to preserve defendants’ rights, while at the same time ensure victims have equally protected rights.”
Linda Chapman, a Dubuque woman whose 25-year-old daughter, Nikki, was killed by a drunken driver in June 2014, said the experience of dealing with the court system turned her into a victim’s advocate who believes the system needs to be “rebalanced” to put victims on even legal footing with the accused.
“A common statement from the victims,” she said, is “it seems like the offender has all the rights and we have none. I have to agree, sadly. It doesn’t seem fair that victims do not have (the same) constitutional rights as those who break the law.”
Hinton said lawmakers are working to revise language in the legislation that raised concerns during last week’s subcommittees from groups representing victims of domestic violence and sexual assault who worried the measure would divert resources to the criminal justice system that could be used to support victims.
“There is a developing consensus around the country that, just as we need to protect the rights the rights of criminal defendants in the process, so, too, should we protect the rights of victims,” said Story County Attorney Jessica Reynolds, who participated in the governor’s news conference Monday.
“Marcy’s law does not take away the rights of anyone. It simply elevates and makes equal rights for crime victims.”
Because the proposal seeks to amend Iowa’s Constitution, the wording would need to be approved by both the House and the Senate in the same form by two consecutive General Assemblies before it could be submitted to Iowa voters in the 2020 election.