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Marsy’s Law makes a difference | Column
The constitutional amendment approved by voters last year rebalances the criminal justice system.
The Tampa Police Department investigates a crime scene that involved a drive-by shooting on East Lake Avenue and North 22nd Street in 2017. The department now withholds names of crime victims and other information after Florida constitutional amendment, Marsy's Law.
The Tampa Police Department investigates a crime scene that involved a drive-by shooting on East Lake Avenue and North 22nd Street in 2017. The department now withholds names of crime victims and other information after Florida constitutional amendment, Marsy's Law. [ OCTAVIO JONES | TIMES ]
Published Nov. 5, 2019
Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warrren
Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warrren [ Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office ]

The victims’ rights amendment to our Florida Constitution, also known as Marsy’s Law, has added enforceable protections for crime victims who come into contact with our criminal justice system. As we embrace the one-year anniversary of this amendment, it is clear that Marsy’s Law has brought necessary balance to the criminal justice system by creating and improving protections for victims that guarantee they will be treated with the fairness and dignity they deserve. The law has started a much-needed statewide discussion on how we treat crime victims, and it has created additional resources to help victims better understand and navigate the judicial process.

My office is responsible for prosecuting every criminal violation of state law in Hillsborough County. We handle more than 50,000 new cases a year. While criminal justice actors — as well as our Legislature, academic institutions, and even the news media — understandably focus on systemic issues and trends, inside every case is a singular story often with a crime victim searching for truth and justice. Our mission of building a safer community and promoting fairness and justice extends beyond courtroom prosecutions. In addition to holding criminals accountable and ensuring public safety, we support and protect victims.

Victims are too often the forgotten piece of the criminal justice puzzle. Victims and their families often suffer in silence as cases slowly proceed through our defendant-focused system. The passage of the victims’ rights amendment last year elevated the voice of victims during the criminal justice process and instituted constitutional protections to help prevent re-victimization while a case moves through our system.

I have held the hands of victims and their loved ones in the courtroom, and I’ve witnessed the impact on victims of knowing that, as they endure an unfamiliar and difficult process, they have a voice. I have seen in our courthouse that Marsy’s Law has fortified victims’ rights without compromising defendants’ constitutional guarantees of due process. It has allowed for the public to know about crime but balanced the dignity and privacy a crime victim deserves.

I am immensely proud of the work my staff has done to ensure our office was prepared to implement Marsy’s Law. Prior to the new law taking effect, our team of dedicated public servants updated our victim notification procedures and Victim Assistance Program resources to include the new constitutional rights, developed and scheduled trainings for our staff and system stakeholders, coordinated with partner agencies on how the requirements of Marsy’s Law would affect their respective operations, and worked with local law enforcement agencies to provide information to victims within 24 hours of an arrest for first appearance court. Our office provided 400,000 victim notifications this year to ensure they had the opportunity to be heard during every prosecutorial step in their case. With the county commission’s help, we added four new victims’ advocates to our Victim Assistance Program to meet the demands of this new law.

By working together with other local stakeholders, we implemented Marsy’s law effectively and efficiently while empowering victims. Our sheriff, our police chiefs, our county commissioners and our chief judge worked tirelessly to make necessary changes and improvements, and I am thankful for their partnership.

One year ago, the people of Florida sent a powerful message that we support and protect victims of crime —always. Our state, our criminal justice system, and the victims on whose behalf we seek justice, are better for it.

Andrew Warren is the state attorney for Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit, serving Hillsborough County.