In The News: Tennesseans who fall victim to crime deserve full extent of their rights

Last month, Memphis mourned the shocking and gruesome murder of a community member, Eliza Fletcher. A few days later, Tennesseans watched in horror as a gunman live streamed a rampage of homicides on Facebook. He murdered four Memphians and wounded three more. 

Many are grieving, and the entire state of Tennessee grieves with them. What can we do to prevent these crimes? How should we support victims and their families? How can we restore our communities? 

At a time like this, it bears repeating that the vast majority of Tennesseans agree that crime victims, at the very least, should be guaranteed the rights to be informed, to be present, to be notified, and to be free of harassment and intimidation as justice is served. This sentiment is expressed in the Tennessee Constitution’s Crime Victims Bill of Rights.

However, as it’s written, that bill of rights lacks significant legal enforceability.

That subtle lack of enforcement plays out like this: Tennessee domestic violence victims do not have to be notified if their abuser is released from custody. Victims of violent crimes being prosecuted by the state are not guaranteed the opportunity to be present or heard at relevant legal proceedings— like parole hearings, for example. Shouldn’t a victim of violent crime have the unquestionable right to be heard by the parole board considering an early release of his or her abuser? The under-inclusiveness of their rights in the Constitution inherently disadvantages victims in our criminal justice system. 

While we are fortunate to live in a state where our law enforcement officials work tirelessly to champion victims as best they can, they often lack the legal means to do so. The reality is that in the eyes of Tennessee law, victims’ rights are not rights at all—they are merely suggestions. Marsy’s Law for Tennessee will fix that. 

Marsy's Law is named for Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas, who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Just one week after her death, Marsy's mother and brother walked into a grocery store after a visit to her graveside. There, they were confronted by the accused murderer. The family had no idea he had been released on bail. He was later convicted of her murder. To honor his sister Marsy and better outcomes for other victims, Dr. Henry Nicholas, formed Marsy’s Law for All, an organization that advocates for legal reform and gives resources to victim organizations nationwide. 

Marsy’s Law offers a Tennessee-specific amendment to the state constitution that spells out victims’ rights clearly and with enforceability. It empowers victims to exercise those rights and meaningfully participate in the pursuit of justice. As these Tennesseans fight to piece their lives back together, Marsy’s Law helps prevent them from being revictimized, as the Nicholas family was. 

Along with our thoughts and prayers, Marsy’s Law is something concrete we can give to help victims. It will not only make a difference to them but also to the communities we hope to heal. 

Suzanna McKinney is the Director of Public Safety at Marsy’s Law for Tennessee. She previously served at the United States Department of Justice and graduated from Wheaton College in 2014. 

GET INVOLVED and volunteer with Marsy’s Law HERE

SIGN THE PETITION to bring equal rights to TN crime victims HERE


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  • Jaspreet Singh
    published this page in Latest News 2023-07-18 06:58:10 -0700