Crime victims group to celebrate rights in Oklahoma
This week's observance of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is the first since voters last November passed State Question 794, a constitutional amendment bolstering crime victims’ rights.
The amendment, known as Marsy’s Law, gives constitutional protection to a victim’s right to be notified throughout criminal justice proceedings. It also requires that they receive information about services available to crime victims.
“This year just knowing all the work that we did actually paid off, it’s pretty amazing,” said Lauren Layman, president of the Oklahoma Homicide Survivors Support Group. “Victims’ Crime Rights Week is tough anyway because no matter where you are in your case — for me I’m past my case — it kind of brings back that fight that you had.”
Advocacy groups will celebrate the week with events across the state and a meeting at the state Capitol, where a bill is making its way through the Legislature to support the new amendment.
Layman said she struggled to receive information from law enforcement about the homicide case for her great-grandmother, Ola Kirk, who was killed May 3, 1983. She believed the trail had gone cold until The Oklahoman reported nearly 30 years later that the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation had recently picked up the case again.
“Then I had to go sit down at the OSBI office and wait for someone to come down and talk to me,” Layman said. “I waited, waited, waited. … They didn’t have to answer questions because they weren’t held accountable to.”
Under Marsy’s Law, victims are entitled to notification of developments in a criminal case and updates on an offender’s release from custody. Victims also have the right to be heard in plea or sentencing proceedings that could result in the offender’s release.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said Marsy’s law hasn’t placed any extra burden on his office. These services have already been in place in Oklahoma County, including case notifications, a Victim Wellness Center and victim coordinators on staff.
“We’re very pleased for what Marsy’s Law has brought to our state for victims to assert a right to a speedy trial and be able to be heard at hearings in relation to sentencing,” Prater said. “We are thankful that Marsy’s Law is a constitutional provision, and the effect has been very positive.”
However, the constitutional amendment might not be so easy to implement in all parts of the state, said Kim Moyer, executive director of Marsy’s Law for Oklahoma.
Rural areas often don’t have the same resources available to victims that urban areas provide, she said. However, larger cities can be inundated with criminal cases and affected victims.
Advocates of Marsy’s Law are seeking to create a uniform experience in all parts of Oklahoma. That begins with a mandate to share information on the rights and resources available to victims, such as restitution payments, assistance with funeral expenses and witness fees.
State legislators and advocacy groups have been working to mesh Marsy’s Law with the statutes already in Oklahoma law.
House Bill 1102, which has passed through the state House, would add many of the requirements from SQ 794 into state lawbooks, with details for who is entitled to victims’ services and what rights they must receive.
The process to fully implement Marsy’s Law will likely continue past HB 1102, Moyer said.
For example, the bill lists several requirements for district attorneys but few for law enforcement. Like in Layman’s case, many investigations labor for years without criminal charges being filed. Victims would have to come to police investigators for information, not court prosecutors.
Throughout the implementation process, Moyer said a primary goal is for crime victims’ rights to become as familiar as those for an offender.
“We want everyone to understand that as a victim, we have rights,” Moyer said. “Everybody understands if you are accused of a crime you have your Miranda rights. Little kids even can say the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney because it’s a cultural (staple), and that’s what we’re trying to do now is make that cultural shift.”