Highlight the Right: Victim Notification
The right, upon request, to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of all proceedings involving the criminal offense
The right, upon request, to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any release, transfer, or escape of the accused or convicted
The right to notification of a government proceeding that involves your rights is a foundational aspect of due process. As the U.S. Supreme Court puts it, “parties whose rights are to be affected are entitled to be heard and, in order that they may enjoy that right, they must first be notified.”[i] Marsy’s Law for Iowa will afford victims the constitutional right to be notified about court proceedings involving their cases, as well as notified on the status of their offender. While we do have statutory laws[ii] in Iowa that govern these notification requirements, neither of these rights are currently guaranteed because the victims have no recourse in the criminal justice system if they are not properly notified.
Notification of Court Proceedings
In order to appropriately participate in a criminal justice proceeding, a victim must first be notified of said proceeding. It is as simple as that. [iii] In Iowa, we currently have notification requirements of law enforcement, county attorneys, the Department of Corrections, the Board of Parole and the Governor’s office.[iv] This statutory construct is important because it means the infrastructure needed to carry out a notification is already solidly in place. A constitutional amendment will not only elevate these notification statutes to constitutional madate, it will provide the missing enforcement mechanism to seek redress before the court for any violation. We need both strong statutory and constitutional language to ensure victims' rights are meaningful and enforceable. Victims in Iowa are too often denied their right to give a victim impact statement because they were not notified of a plea hearing that preoceeded immediately to a sentencing hearing. Enshrining victims’ rights to notification and standing in the state constitution, not only guarantees a victim the right to be timely notified of proceedings in which their rights are implicated, but also the ability to seek judicial review when those rights are violated.
Notification of Offender Status
Reporting a crime of violence inherently puts the victim in danger of more violence and is, according to RAINN, the number one reason given by victims on why a large majority of sexual and gender-based violence crimes remain unreported.[v] Because of the nature of violent offenses, the government system must ensure that victims are adequately protected and safe after reporting the crimes they endure. One of the ways the government can accomplish this is by notifying the victim of the status of an offender. In Iowa, we have a victim-notification system that is designed to notify victims when their offender is being released, transferred, or escapes incarceration.[vi] Again, there is great infrastructure that already exists in our state, but lacks proper enforcement. Similar to notification of court proceedings, without standing to enforce the right in court when it is violated, victims have a right without a remedy, which is in actuality, no right at all.
Marsy’s Law for Iowa will provide constitutional guarantees to crime victims to ensure meaningful and enforceable rights.
[i] Fuentes v. Shevin, 407 U.S. 67, 80 (1972) (internal citations omitted)
[ii] Iowa Code § 915.10A-915.19
[iii] See 150 Cong. Rec. S4267-68 (daily ed. April 22, 2004) (statement by Sen. Kyl).
[iv] Supra note ii
[v] See The Criminal Justice System: Statistics, RAINN (2017), https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system
[vi] Iowa Code § 915.10A