The Moment A Person Becomes A Victim

A leading North Carolina newspaper recently ran a story quoting a representative from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers questioning the “need” to protect North Carolina’s victims – alarmingly suggesting that it’s wrong to designate someone as a victim “before it’s been established that the defendant has committed any crime.”

It fails to point out the most critical aspect of the victim/accused dynamic: that a victim of crime is established the moment a crime is committed, not months or years later when a conviction is entered and affirmed.  This statement implies that there is no victim at the moment of action when an elderly citizen is assaulted getting in his car, a woman is raped coming home from work or someone’s child is abducted and murdered. Presumably, the suggestion is that perhaps these victims will eventually be recognized, but only after the case has made its way through the justice process.

The shocking nature of this statement was compounded by the fact that a media outlet would give it credibility featured prominently in a news story. It shows exactly why Marsy’s Law is needed in North Carolina to protect citizens who have been subject to violent horrific crimes the moment they occur, not after months of proceedings that may or may not result in a conviction.

While many North Carolinians don’t agree with this insensitive concept of victimization based on a conviction, the reality for someone who becomes a victim of crime in North Carolina today is that he or she is currently a second-class citizen in the eyes of state law. While there are statutory rights in North Carolina law for victims, constitutional rights are simply a stronger guarantee. North Carolina’s victims deserve that guarantee.

And while the policy debate ramps up at high-levels among elected officials and influential lobbies like the ACLU and defense lawyer associations, what cannot be lost in the policy discussions is that real, actual people – and their lives, recovery, and dignity – are what’s at stake.

The constitution is meant to live in a place above our laws and reflect our fundamental values as North Carolinians, but right now those accused and convicted of crimes have enumerated rights in the constitution and victims do not. It’s time for the General Assembly to recognize this discrepancy on behalf of victims and pass Marsy’s Law.