You don't enlist in the victims' rights movement. You get drafted by the vicious criminals that murder your loved ones.
It has been 26 years since my sister, Marsy, was murdered, and my mother and I found ourselves among the ranks of victims. No one had told us that a bail hearing for the man that ultimately would be convicted of killing Marsy had already occurred.
No one asked my mother or me to appear before the court to voice our concerns. In effect, my mother and I were victimized once by the killer and once more by a system that wasn't geared to recognize our needs and rights. The criminal justice system provided the accused with numerous rights to justice and due process, as it should. But virtually no rights were there for the victim – until now.
When California voters passed the Victims' Bill of Rights Act of 2008: Marsy's Law, last November, our state took the lead in providing victims with enforceable constitutional rights. The message from California was clear – we want violent crime victims and their families to have guaranteed rights to safety, privacy, restitution and the right to participate in critical court proceedings.
Now, victims of violent crime must by law be treated with respect and dignity within our system of criminal justice. Courts must consider their safety when setting bail and release conditions. Families of victims of violent crime may have their voices heard in key judicial proceedings such as bail hearings, decisions of pretrial release, pleas, sentencing and parole.
Now every district attorney in California is undergoing training in Marsy's Law, and how to ensure victims are informed of their Marsy rights. Police and prosecutors who have been some of our strongest advocates now know they are constitutionally required to make sure victims know how to exercise their rights.
Yet, everyday in courtrooms in other parts of the country citizens still don't have these rights. There is only one way the whole country can enjoy the protections and rights of Marsy's Law – amending the U.S. Constitution.
I promised my father on his deathbed that I would do everything I possibly could to advance this cause. I have been involved in this movement for most of my adult life.
My mother, Marcella Leach, with Ellen Griffin Dunne, the mother of Dominique Dunne who was murdered in 1982, founded Justice for Homicide Victims 25 years ago. I have seen first-hand the terrible ordeal victims' families go through in the courts. I couldn't be more pleased or more humbled by the fact that a law that alleviates at least part of their suffering carries my sister's name. We are all potential victims. Any of us could be "drafted" into this cause.