Under the Maine Constitution, those accused and convicted of a crime in this state are granted specific rights and protections. Victims of crime in Maine and their families, however, are not given equal, constitutional rights. And while statutory laws protecting victims are well-intended, without constitutional protections, crime victims often feel unheard and left out of the legal process, adding additional challenges to their plates during what is often the most difficult time in their lives.

That is why, along with a bipartisan group of colleagues in the Maine House and Senate, I am proposing an amendment to Maine’s Constitution that will guarantee crime victims in Maine equal rights and protections to those of the accused and convicted. The proposal, L.D. 1168, also known as Marsy’s Law for Maine, is a common-sense solution for crime victims and their families.

They deserve to have their rights elevated from statutory to constitutional so they are no longer inferior to and less enforceable than the rights of the accused and convicted, but equal. The equal footing provided by Marsy’s Law of Maine will give them a voice, not a veto, in the legal process — nothing more, nothing less. And it will guarantee their right to be treated with the fairness, dignity, respect, and privacy they deserve throughout the legal process. As the persons most directly impacted by the crime, victims deserve rights that are recognized at the highest levels.

The impact of crime — and the potential impact of Marsy’s Law for Maine for victims — is significant. More than 1,700 violent crimes were committed in Maine in 2013, according to the most recent “Crime in the United States” report from the FBI. Taking into account that most violent crimes have more than one victim, the actual number of crime victims in Maine each year is greater. I believe each and every one of these victims of crime in our state deserves equal rights to those of those accused or convicted of the crime against them.

The common-sense rights and protections afforded to crime victims by Marsy’s Law for Maine include the right to be treated with fairness and dignity, and with respect for their safety and privacy throughout the criminal justice process; to be informed, upon request, when the accused is released from custody or has escaped; to be present at and, upon request, to receive reasonable and timely notice of all public proceedings involving the criminal or juvenile criminal conduct; and to be heard at any public proceeding involving a release, a plea or sentencing, disposition or parole, and any other proceeding at which a right of the victim is implicated.

Victims would also be given the right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay and a prompt conclusion of the case, and the right to receive prompt and full restitution for the losses they suffered.

With Marsy’s Law for Maine, crime victims will finally have strong and enforceable rights that are equal to the rights of the accused of convicted. They will have the right to be participants in their cases if they so choose, as opposed to being treated peripherally. And they will be ensured a meaningful role throughout criminal or juvenile justice systems if they want one.

As crime victims across Maine observe National Crime Victims’ Rights Week this first week of April, the co-sponsors of Marsy’s Law for Maine and I honor them. I believe that no criminal should have more rights than they do. I am encouraged by the broad support for Marsy’s Law for Maine by victims and their advocates across our state who believe Marsy’s Law for Maine is necessary. It will give Maine crime victims and their families’ clarity and a voice, and the common-sense protections, legal standing, and equal and enforceable rights they deserve.

Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, is Senate majority leader.

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