Today's Tales From the Road post is a look back at an event we attended in Cedar Rapids where we were pleasantly surprised to find Iowans are more than willing to be the voice of others when it comes to doing what is right.
We're back with another edition of our Tales From the Road, with a throwback to our team's adventures at the this past summer.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Marsy’s Law for Iowa Urges Victim Notification Prior to Inmate Release
DES MOINES, Iowa (March 26, 2020) — As Iowa’s law enforcement community and prosecutors wrestle with decisions to release convicted criminals in order to deter the spread of COVID-19 in Iowa, Marsy’s Law for Iowa is offering a reminder to notify crime victims of an inmate’s release.
“We’re grateful for the lengths that law enforcement from across the state are going to in order to keep our communities safe during this pandemic,” said Eric Baker of Marsy’s Law for Iowa. “We also recognize that during these stressful times, it’s more important than ever for victims to be informed on the status of their offender. Their safety depends on it.”
As the Coronavirus continues to spread, states across the country are looking for ways to decrease the prison population. In fact, recent news accounts in Iowa have detailed jails and prisons considerations for releasing criminals.
Currently, Iowa crime victims are not provided enforceable rights in the state’s constitution. Marsy’s Law for Iowa, a grassroots organization that has been advocating for a crime victims’ rights amendment, points to the fact COVID-19 in Iowa has illustrated why statutory rights are no longer good enough for crime victims.
“If you have been the victim of a non-violent crime, you should reach out to your county attorney if you do not want your offender released,” said Reuben Neff, Wapello County attorney and Marsy’s Law for Iowa supporter. “It’s incredibly frustrating that Iowa crime victims don’t currently have constitutional protections, but this is an action you can take right now to make sure your voice is heard.”
For County Attorney contact information visit the Iowa County Attorneys Association’s website.
We're launching a new series - Tales from the Road - to give you insights into what our team is doing when they're out traveling the state of Iowa. We hear from locally elected officials, victim survivors, law enforcement and everyday Iowans who are concerned with the lack of constitutional rights for Iowa crime victims. We'll keep going the distance for crime victims' rights. We're glad to have you along for the ride.
For 20 years, I have been involved in law enforcement, where each and every day I work with folks in our community who are victims of crime. No one asks to become a victim, and it can happen to anyone at any time.
Once a person is thrown into the system as a crime victim their lives are turned upside down. This is not just because of the horrific act that happened to them, but also the subsequent process they endure as they try to navigate our criminal justice system. This system inherently favors the accused and victims are constantly being forgotten. We must do what we can to make sure Iowans who become victims of crime are given a voice in the process, that they are not forgotten.
During this legislative session, our elected officials in Des Moines should pass a victims’ rights amendment to our state constitution. Every day, I see the pain and suffering victims go through and I want to do everything I can to make sure their rights are enshrined in our constitution.
The accused has rights and it’s time to give rights to the victims. The right to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect; the right to notification of the status of the offender; the right to be read these rights, are all vitally important to ensuring our legal justice system works better for crime victims.
Victims deserve fairness in our system and legislators must pass this today.
Bloomfield Police Chief
We're hitting the road again, reaching out to Iowans in more communities all across the state. Over the next couple of weeks, we'll be in Osage, Decorah, Dyersville and then on to Humboldt, Pocahontas and Sioux City.
We'd love for you to join us for a free event to learn more about our statewide effort to elevate crime victims’ rights to the Iowa constitution. These events will give community members the opportunity to learn more about the movement to guarantee victims constitutional rights, what it takes to amend Iowa’s constitution, and to get involved.
If you cannot make it to our event in your community but are interested in learning more, please feel free to reach out to Sydney at email@example.com or 712-541-2718.
As a parent, it sometimes feels like the worry is endless, especially when you send a child off to college for the first time. That’s how I felt when I sent my son Treye off to Cedar Falls when he was 18. Treye was always a good kid, but like any parent, I still worried about alcohol, his studies, and how he would adjust to college. Never in a million years did I think I would need to worry about my son being murdered. But that’s what any person thinks before they’re a victim of a crime - that stuff would never happen to me or my family.
In 2006, Treye was at a party in Cedar Falls when a fight broke out. Treye was not involved in the fight, but when coming to the aid of someone he barely knew, he was tragically stabbed in the heart.
Burying a child is a burden no parent should ever have to bear. Navigating a court system that is built to favor the person who murdered your child is nearly as difficult. In our situation, the breakdown came with notification. In two cases, I was not notified of hearings in Treye’s case. In fact, one of them I became aware about from a friend who texted me.
A crime victims’ rights amendment would bring balance back to the judicial system as far as victims are concerned. We should have as many rights as the perpetrators of crime. These would be very reasonable things like the right to be notified of hearings, the right to be heard in all proceedings and the right to reasonable protection from the accused, among others.
Families and victims who are suffering the loss of a loved one should not feel revictimized by Iowa’s court system, yet that’s what is happening. People who are committing crimes already have their rights enshrined in our state constitution. It's long past time for those who become victims of crime and their families to have reasonable rights as well.
I recently directed a documentary about sex trafficking called Grid Shock which provided me the opportunity to meet with many crime victims and survivors in our state. Ever since meeting with these people, listening to the way they have not only been abused by a criminal but then are treated poorly by our criminal justice system, it has lit a fire in me to speak out about crime victims’ rights.
For a person who becomes the victim of a crime, their life is marked as a before and after. Everything in your life is measured before the incident and after - it changes everything. Who you are, how you see the world, who you trust is all turned upside down. No matter how many good or bad choices a person has made in their life, they never ask to be a victim.
The current law in Iowa may seem adequate. That is until a person is directly impacted, then they realize how broken it really is. Victims going through the criminal justice process are revictimized. The current law in Iowa is not enough. Each and every day victims are falling through the cracks of a system that is set up to fail them. There must be more enforcement and protections for survivors of crime. The answer is an amendment to our state constitution outlining victims’ rights.
These rights would include the right to be heard at trial, the right to be notified of the status of their offender, the right to restitution, among others. Putting these rights in our constitution should not be controversial. It hurts no one. It only brings justice.
Having constitutional rights for victims is imperative in Iowa. Victims and survivors need to know they’re important, they need to know their stories matter and that they’re being listened to. It means everything to these survivors to have a say in their lives when so much has been taken away from them.
Nothing is more common sense than passing a constitutional amendment for crime victims’ rights.
Vanessa McNeal MSW is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and founder of Story Maven Media, a nonprofit media company elevating social issues through documentary filmmaking.
In 2017, I became the Crime Victim Witness Coordinator for Clay County. On a daily basis I work with victims in our communities – your loved ones, someone you work with, our neighbors. Day in and day out, I work to form a bond with these victims, I know how important it is for them to feel like someone is in their corner, that they’ve been heard and someone is fighting for them.
As a Victim Witness Coordinator, I have countless stories of victims in Clay County of people who will carry the scars of their events with them for the rest of their lives. It is my hope that by the time each case is over, the victim involved has regained some confidence and trust to be able to move forward with their life. I believe there is still much to be done by way of crime victims’ rights in our state and by making victims equal with the defendant in the eyes of the court, they would have a stronger voice and could be heard.
The Iowa Legislature must pass a crime victims’ rights amendment to our state constitution this session.
The rights of the accused are specific and clear in our constitution – the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, among others. Adding a crime victims’ rights amendment to our constitution would do nothing to change those rights, it would simply add rights for the victims.
These enumerated rights are: the right to be treated with fairness, dignity and respect, the right to be notified, be present and be heard at court proceedings, the right to reasonable protection from the accused, the right to notification of the release or escape of the accused, the right to restitution and the right to assert these rights in the criminal justice process.
The most rewarding part of my job is seeing a victim’s reaction when the defendant gets sent away. When the court sides with the victim it’s like a weight is lifted off of them and you can actually see it. I know through firsthand experience that the current laws on the books are not good enough for Iowa crime victims. We don’t have to wait to give victims their power back in the system, we can do it today.
Clay County Victim Witness Coordinator