Guest Columnist

Crime victims deserve constitutional protections

An empty jury box in a courtroom in the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids. date shot: 8/1/05
An empty jury box in a courtroom in the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids. date shot: 8/1/05

Anyone who has ever watched a television crime drama can probably recite some or all of the rights that a criminal defendant has in court — the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, the right to be presumed innocent.

But what about rights for the victim of the crime? Iowans are talking right now about this idea. If you are the victim of a crime, should our state constitution protect your rights while it also protects the rights of the criminal defendant?

Our answer to that question is an emphatic “yes.” We are both county attorneys who have dedicated our careers to the prosecution of crime and the protection of crime victims. We are supporting Marsy’s Law for Iowa to improve our treatment of crime victims while also not taking rights away from the accused.

What is Marsy’s Law? It would amend the Iowa Constitution to protect the rights of crime victims. These rights would include the right to be notified about the progress of the criminal case. The right to consult with the prosecutor about important decisions. The right to be heard in court. Right now 34 states already protect the rights of crime victims in their constitutions. It is past time to reform Iowa’s constitution to do the same.

So, who was Marsy? Marsy Nicholas was a young woman brutally murdered by her college boyfriend. Her family’s anguish over her death was made much worse when they learned the killer had been released from jail when he confronted the family at a store. Their frustrations at how the criminal justice system worked only grew as the case progressed. Although in the end justice was done for Marsy, her brother resolved to work to make sure that crime victims would be treated better in the future.

We are supporting passing Marsy’s Law in Iowa. To amend the constitution, the legislature needs to pass the proposed amendment in two consecutive general assemblies. The measure would then go to Iowans to ratify at the following election. It is critical that the Iowa Legislature get this process started this session. This would allow us to have Marsy’s law on the ballot by 2020.

As career prosecutors we look forward to the day that we get to read a crime victim her rights. Please join us in the effort to reform our constitution to do just that.

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• Alan Ostergren, a Republican, is the Muscatine County Attorney. Jessica Reynolds, a Democrat, is the Story County Attorney.

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