BOISE -- An emotional hearing in the Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee is planned for next week as a new resolution is introduced that would expand victims' rights in Idaho.
This amendment is aimed at giving victims more of a voice throughout the entire criminal justice process.
The legislation is known across the country as "Marsy's Law." It has already been passed in five states, and now Idaho is one of many where it is being pushed.
Many key players worked together on this constitutional amendment in Idaho - from victims' advocates to prosecutors and sheriffs. Several individuals will be testifying at the Statehouse next week, sharing stories about the unimaginable pain victims of crime endure before, during and after legal action is taken.
On the night of March 11, 2011, Ashlee Birk's husband, Emmett Corrigan, was murdered in a Meridian Walgreens parking lot.
"He was having an affair and the husband came and with two shots of a gun I was made a widow at the age of 28," Birk said. "You don't plan ever to be a victim."
As the trial for her husband's murderer, Robert Hall, loomed, Ashlee held out hope for answers and for healing. Hall was convicted of second-degree murder, but that didn't provide the healing or closure Ashlee was hoping for.
"Living through the trial was its own trauma," Birk added. "When you don't feel like you have a voice or don't feel like you're remembered every single day, by the end of the trial it's almost like I was worse off."
Ashlee wishes she could have been included in the trial more frequently and wishes she was informed that Hall posted bail before he was actually released.
"If Marsy's Law is approved and the laws change, those kind of situations won't blindside people," Birk added.
Ashlee is one of many advocates of Marsy's Law who want to ensure victims and their families are given the same constitutional rights as the accused or convicted criminal.
"Idaho has some victims' rights provisions and some good provisions in its Constitution," Sen. Todd Lakey (R- Nampa) told KTVB. "It's been a while since they've been updated."
Sen. Lakey - who is sponsoring Senate Joint Resolution No. 102 - says some amendments need to be made to Article I Section 22 (Rights of Crime Victims) of Idaho's Constitution.
As defined by statute in Idaho, a crime victim has the following rights:
- "To be treated with fairness, respect, dignity and privacy throughout the criminal justice process.
- To timely disposition of the case.
- To prior notification of trial court, appellate and parole proceedings and, upon request, to information about the sentence, incarceration and release of the defendant.
- To be present at all criminal justice proceedings.
- To communicate with the prosecution.
- To be heard, upon request, at all criminal justice proceedings considering a plea of guilty, sentencing, incarceration or release of the defendant, unless manifest injustice would result.
- To restitution, as provided by law, from the person committing the offense that caused the victim's loss.
- To refuse and interview, ex parte contact, or other request by the defendant, or any other person acting on behalf of the defendant, unless such request is authorized by law.
- To read presentence reports relating to the crime.
- To the same rights in juvenile proceedings, where the offense is a felony if committed by an adult, as guaranteed in this section, provided that access to the social history report shall be determined by statute."
Marsy's Law would add provisions and tweaks to Idaho's constitution; one being that the victim is notified of more proceedings in a "reasonable and timely" fashion. Victims would also have the right to reasonable protection from the accused or anyone acting on their behalf; they would receive relevant reports or records used in sentencing; they would be able to confer with the prosecution; and to "full and timely" restitution.
One of the most important amendments to Idaho's Constitution would expand victims' rights to be heard, if they choose, "prior to the acceptance of matters in different parts of the proceeding, such as a plea of guilty, sentencing, parole, parole discharge, incarceration, probation, commutation, pardon, post-arrest and post-conviction, release, and any proceeding during which the right of the victim is implicated".
"Post-conviction relief, parole hearings, bail hearings where their voice is important. Their safety is important in those proceedings and they have an opportunity to be heard," Sen. Lakey added.
"If I was able to be there and just say, 'Hey judge, here's my concerns," maybe he wouldn't hear them or care but at least I would feel like I had a voice," Birk said.
This resolution will be heard sometime next week in the Idaho Senate State Affairs Committee. SJR102 requires two-thirds majority support by members of both the House and the Senate. If successful, Idahoans will see the resolution on their ballot and be able to vote on it in the next general election, where it needs a simple majority to pass.