A Macon state senator wants to put a crime victims’ bill of rights in the Georgia Constitution. His idea got both praise and criticism at its first hearing.
“Georgia’s crime victims’ bill of rights constitutional amendment would ensure that victims have same coequal rights as the accused and convicted, nothing more, nothing less,” said state Sen. John F. Kennedy, R-Macon, to a panel of fellow state senators at the state Capitol on Tuesday.
His legislation would add seven new rights to the Georgia Constitution, guaranteeing crime victims things such as the right to be heard at proceedings involving the person accused or convicted of wrongdoing.
Georgia law already contains a victims’ bill of rights. Kennedy’s Senate Resolution 146 asks Georgia voters to put those rights in the state’s highest law. Separately, his Senate Bill 127 outlines how a victim could go to court and ask for redress if those rights were not honored.
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A handful of Georgia residents spoke in support of his legislation, some fighting tears, complaining of mistreatment at the hands of the judicial system.
Beverly Muhammad said she’s a crime victim who was re-victimized. She said her son was murdered in DeKalb County in 2013 and that she didn’t get notified when the gunman was released from prison.
“It’s hard for a victim like myself to be in that type of situation where the offender is out and you have no knowledge,” Muhammad said.
But opponents argued that they don’t see what benefit Kennedy’s bill as written would bring to crime victims.
Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter told the state Senate panel that prosecutors absolutely support victims’ rights.
“In all our conversations, I have yet to find a single person who can tell me how amending the constitution makes things better for victims,” Porter said.
He said changing the constitution may take away the Legislature’s flexibility to best serve victims by changing laws.
The subcommittee did not take action on either piece of legislation, but may do so in the coming weeks.
Maggie Lee: @maggie_a_lee