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Sponsors and committee assignments

The Victims Bill (HB 567) was sponsored Representatives Don Parsons (42nd district) and Wendell Willard (49th district). The bill was for the first time read in the House of Representatives on February 26, 2009, and on March 3, 2009, it went through the second reading. Speaker of the House David Ralston (7th District) assigned the bill the Ramsey Sub-committee of the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee. On March 18, 2009, the bill reported favorably. The bill, as re-introduced, expounded on the criminal justice systems' victims' rights. The House had set out a guideline in the Code section 17-17-1 (1995), that victims must be accorded some fundamental rights in the same way the accused are accorded some basic rights. This guideline had not particularly spelled out those rights.

Overview

This Act accords victims of crimes in Georgia certain rights and creates a framework that enables the state's agencies to provide these rights. It institutes wide-ranging reforms that provide nine fundamental rights of the victims. These rights include the right to attend, and be heard in the ruling phase of the accused person's criminal proceeding, and in the juvenile court proceedings. Additionally, it grants the victim the right to be informed about the nature of court proceedings, or the accused (such as release or break out by the prosecuting attorney or the corrections department). The bill also required that Judges make a ruling in all case as to whether restoration to the victim from the accused is suitable. Additionally, it gives the victim the right to refuse to be interviewed by an agent (such as a lawyer) of the accused and that such an agent be obliged to categorically inform the victim that he is a representative of the accused. The act also provides protection from the accused to the Victims and families. Lastly, the Act provides for changes involving to the carrying of convicts to correctional facilities.

History

The Crime Victims' Bill of Rights in its ultimate form, House Bill (HB) 567 was almost passed unanimously in the House with 158 representatives voting for and only one representative voting against and was unanimously passed in the Senate (CRIMINAL PROCEDURE Crime Victims' Bill of Rights, 2010). The bill went through many alterations and faced stiff resistance, mostly based on a contentious adaptation of Section 11, which was in the bill's previous versions. Designing a legislation that covers victims' rights in reality commenced in June 2009 after a group of lawmakers were commissioned to draft a potential bill to be tabled in the house. Victim impact statements up to that time were not favored in law. Influence on rulings by Victim impact statements was not acceptable in Georgia courts. Consequently, the Georgia law did not let the severity of the sentence to be reliant on the emotional state of the victim.

In addition, the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution was previously taken to prohibit victim impact statements in the trial of capital murder suspects. In the case of Booth v. Maryland, the Supreme Court opined that admitting a victim's impact statements would result to an arbitrarily imposition of the death sentence, that some victims either would not leave a family behind or be less expressive in recounting their loss even when it was just as brutal as the loss of others. Similarly, the Court was worried that such evidence swung the focus away from the accused person and what they at the time of committing the alleged offence. The Supreme Court set a precedent that a prosecutor took part in improper conduct during a murder trial, by inferring positive traits of a homicide victim from evidence. The Supreme Court later reversed itself in Payne v. Tennessee. It was ruled that the Eight Amendment does not categorically bar victim impact statements. It ruled as unfair allowing the accused to infer good character by putting on mitigating evidence while denying victims or their family a chance to convey the loss and consequence resultant from the accused alleged actions. In other words, justice, although due to the accused, is sill due to the victim also. Georgia law, nonetheless, went on to bar victim impact statements up until 1992. The following year, the Georgia legislature amended the law, particularly permitting victim impact statements to be presented in capital offence trials at the discretion of the trial judge if the statements did not provoke or unjustifiably prejudice the jury. However, the legislation could not be applied to juvenile court proceedings.

Many viewed this as a victory of sentiment over substance (Ramsey, 2010). Even as the previous law recognized the different rights that victims of crimes have, it did little or nothing in terms of guiding the diverse state agencies in how to grant those rights. This shortcoming rendered the law unsuccessful in fulfilling its promise. This made necessary the introduction of HB 567 in the 2009 legislative session. Representative Parsons tabled the bill after a call to him from a Cobb County resident also the father of a murder victim. Two members of the Georgia Crime Victim's Advocacy Council, Dr. Bruce Cook and Mr. Gordon Rondo, proposed a victims' bill of rights molded in after like laws in other states and at the federal laws.

This Georgia bill is greatly sculpted after the 2004 federal crime victims' rights bill (Krakoff, Robert, Anderson, and Philip, 2010). The federal legislation, on the other hand, also seems to be found on a string of amendments made to state constitutions, which include Illinois, Texas, Arizona, and Michigan, as from 1988 (Maryland Crime Victims' Resource Center, 2004-2007). Several other states, though, accorded rights by statute to victims of crimes. For instance, Kentucky was the earliest, in 1994, to offer programmed telephone information to crime victims concerning the accused status (Maryland Crime Victims' Resource Center, 2004-2007). After his acceptance of the responsibility to push the bill on behalf of his constituents, Representative Parsons determined he desired to work with an attorney who was experienced on the Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, where this category of the bill is drafted. He subsequently introduced the idea of a crime victims' bill to Representative Willard, who was extremely encouraging. Willard supported Representative Parsons to continue with the legislation, to reinforce the provision of victims' rights. They both decided that the fundamental driving force of the bill would be to enhance the victims' role in the criminal justice system in trials that concern them.

Amendments

Code section 17-17-1 underwent through a number of changes in the House. In the initial version of the bill, eight precise rights of victims' were introduced to the Code section. These included the right to be provided with sensible protection from the accused; the right to reasonable, exact, and well-timed notice of any public trial concerning the crime committed against them or of any release or break out of the accused; the right not to be barred from any such public hearings, except if the court, after obtaining obvious and compelling evidence, and conclusion that testimony by the victim would significantly be changed if the victim hears a witness testimony; the right to be heard at any public trial concerning the release, petition, sentencing, or parole of the suspect; the right to consult with the state attorney in any criminal hearing connected to the state; the right to restorative justice as the law provides; the right to trial free from unfair delay; and the right to fair treatment and with respect for the decorum of the victim.

The next amendments to Code section 17-17-1 in the bill, as introduced, dealt with who could claim these rights. Victims, their agents, or prosecutors could claim them. The court in which the trial was being heard would tackle these claims or the court with jurisdiction over the crime location if there were no trial in progress. The other potion gave the victims a rather expansive power to challenge a courts' denial of their rights under this section. This whole bit of changes to Code section 17-17-1 was removed in the subsequent edition of the bill. This was partially due to apprehension that the victims would be made a party to the criminal proceedings, and allows them to sue the judges should they think their rights have been abused. The initial bill also amended section 17-17-15, which restricted the right granted in the tabled version of section 17-17-1 for victims to dispute a resolution that deprived them of their rights. All of the amendments made to section 17-17-15 were thrown out in the subsequent version of HB 567.

The Ramsey Sub-committee was also apprehensive about victims being accorded the right to file complaints, and that was tackled in the amendments to Code section 15-11-64.2 concerning juvenile trials and section 17-10-1.2 concerning adult trials. The initial bill amended section 17-17-6 adding that on the initial contact by the court personnel or law enforcers with the victim, the victim must be informed about the potential accessibility of compensation where relevant. A section was introduced by the House Subcommittee in a later version of the bill that obliged the court to set an exact dollar amount when ordering the repayment due to the victim. All of the amendments to section 17-17-6 in this section were expunged in the following edition of HB 567.6. The initial bill also amended section 17-17-13 to so that when an accused is found guilty, the prosecutor is obliged to inform victims of their right to be informed of any imminent forgiveness or release trial associated to the offender. These amendments were similarly expunged from the Act.

Representative Don Parsons (R-47th) tabled the ultimate version of the act on March 26, 2010 on the floor of the House. Afterward, voting began and the bill was passed 158 to 1 (CRIMINAL PROCEDURE Crime Victims' Bill of Rights, 2010). Consequently, Senator John Wiles sponsored the bill in the Senate; it went through the first reading on March 30, 2010. Senate President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams allocated it to the Senate Special Judiciary Committee, which reported positively on April 1, 2010. The only change made to the bill by the senate was the deletion of a provision that allowed convicted suspects to be held in local detention for the period of the appellate process as an alternative of being housed at the state penitentiary system straight away. On April 14, 2010, the Senate unanimously approved the act with no debate. Seven days later, the House accepted the Senate amendment by a 151 to 2 victory (CRIMINAL PROCEDURE Crime Victims' Bill of Rights, 2010). The bill was signed into law by Governor Sonny Perdue on May 20, 2010 to become Act 403 on the same day.

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