Marsy’s Law for Tennessee provides a crucial voice for victims

As a member of the Tennessee General Assembly, my job is to try my best to improve the lives of Tennesseans and protect them in every way that I can. Protecting Tennesseans does not only mean protecting the unalienable rights granted to us in the Constitution, it means protecting the most vulnerable communities around us and ensuring they are granted the same rights as every other citizen. 

This month, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I am especially mindful of the importance of bringing awareness to some of our most vulnerable victims of domestic violence, violent crime and their families. The most impactful way we, as Tennesseans, can make sure these victims are protected is first ensuring they have equal access to justice to that of their perpetrators. 

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This past General Assembly, I was proud to support the Marsy’s Law legislation, sponsored by my good friend Chairlady Patsy Hazlewood (R-Signal Mountain), which expanded equal access to justice for victims in our state Constitution. This legislation ensures victims are now granted the rights to be notified of all criminal proceedings involving the accused, release, transfer, or escape of the accused, and they may be heard in any proceeding involving release, plea, sentencing and more. 

The trauma that victims and their families endure is something very few of us can understand. Constitutionally protected rights for these individuals secures the brighter and safer future they deserve. The implementation of Marsy’s Law is vital in the betterment of our judicial system, and additionally, it is equally as important to understand where this mission to protect victims began.

In 1983, Marsy Nicholas, a student at the University of California at Santa Barbara, was stalked and tragically killed by her ex-boyfriend. Her family, unaware of her murderer’s release, had a shocking and unexpected run-in with him at the grocery store only a week after her death. Should Marsy’s Law have been in place then, the Nichols family would have been notified of any transfer or release of her murderer. Tackling this issue head-on also means we’re confronted with the hard truth that, unfortunately, perpetrators of violent crime have historically been granted more rights than their victims.

To me, Domestic Violence Awareness Month represents more than just supporting those who have been affected. This month is a reminder that we, as a state, must do everything in our power to ensure no innocent life ever falls victim to the heinous acts of disturbed individuals ever again. Supporting victims and granting them equal access to justice should not be something we do only in October. If you are a victim of violent crime, my hope for you is that Tennessee never stops creating a space for your story to be told while also demanding justice for you and your family. This is only the beginning of the fight, and I will proudly support future legislation which furthers Marsy’s Law and its mission. 

I am eternally grateful for the work put into this movement by not only those at Marsy’s Law, but Tennesseans from all over the state. Together, we are giving victims the voice they deserve.

By Rep. Sam Whitson, District 65