NH Says More Needs to be Done to Protect Victims from Accused Criminals
CONCORD (AP) — After enduring years of sexual and physical abuse as a child, a New Hampshire woman moved out of state and far away from those traumatic events. But then she heard her perpetrator was trying to get off a sex offender list so he could get free housing.
The state hadn't told her about that, and she said she began to feel victimized again. The experience prompted her to join a campaign Tuesday to bolster the rights of crime victims by amending New Hampshire's constitution. The Associated Press does not usually identify alleged victims of sex crimes.
The woman joined Gov. Chris Sununu, lawmakers and police officers in supporting a push to get a constitutional amendment known as Marsy's Law on the November ballot.
The law was named after Marsalee "Marsy" Nicholas, a California student who was killed in 1983 by a former boyfriend. Her brother, Henry Nicholas, founded Marsy's Law For All , which is pushing efforts to get the law passed in several states.
The amendment in New Hampshire first needs legislative approval to get on the ballot. It would require prosecutors to inform victims of proceedings involving the accused and the right for the victims to be heard in hearings involving the release, sentencing or parole of perpetrators.
It also would require reasonable notice when a prisoner escapes or is released and also allows for restitution resulting from the financial impact of a crime.
"It is hard to describe the emotions I felt having to watch the process after the fact on YouTube where I found a copy of the hearing," said the woman who's pushing the New Hampshire amendment.
"The hurt from being left out and ignored and ... seeing my abuser rewrite history to paint himself as an innocent frail old man with a cane — it was horrifying," she continued. "There is no mention made of the victim, no mention made of the 4-year-old girl that was so afraid to go to sleep because she might be woken back in the middle of the night."
New Hampshire is one of 15 states that do not offer constitution-level protections to crime victims, and Sununu argued the bipartisan push for Marsy's Law would offer "balance, fairness and basic equality" throughout the criminal justice system without trampling the rights of the accused.
"We are all familiar with the so-called Miranda rights that are provided for defendants," the Republican governor said. "But unfortunately, there are not that many people that can quote the rights for the victims and their families.
Sununu said some state laws offer protections for crime victim but the state constitution does not.
While politically popular, the law has run into problems in other states even among those that initially supported the amendment. Critics contend the law's extensive victim-notification requirements could straddle cash-strapped smaller towns and counties with crippling costs and mountains of paper work.
The ACLU of New Hampshire said it supports crime victim's rights but also wants to ensure that the proposed constitutional amendment preserves the "accused's constitutional rights to due process."
As currently written, the amendment would "risk violating the due process rights in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments" and "come into direct conflict with these federal constitutional rights afforded to the accused, who are still innocent until proven guilty," the ACLU said.