LITTLE ROCK — It is time for Arkansas to write crime victims’ rights into its constitution, speakers said at a rally Friday at the state Capitol.
State Rep. Charlotte Douglas, R-Alma, who organized the rally, said she plans to sponsor a resolution to create a victims’ rights constitutional amendment during the legislative session that begins in January. The measure is not written yet, but a committee of stakeholders will study what other states have done and make recommendations, she said.
The committee currently has about 50 members, Douglas said.
“We have prosecutors, we have judges, defense attorneys, we have the administrator for the courts, all of the victims’ groups have been invited, we have legislators, we have the (Arkansas Commission on Child Abuse, Rape and Domestic Violence). And anyone is welcome to give us input,” she said.
Douglas said 34 states have victims’ rights in their constitution, and lawmakers in several states are working on amendments on the topic.
“We could be in January one of only about 10 states that do not have a constitutional amendment ensuring victims’ rights,” said Douglas, who has sponsored or co-sponsored several bills on victims’ rights that are now state law.
Speakers at the rally suggested various things the amendment could include.
Tana Despain, who founded a nonprofit organization, Marc’s Place, to help victims of violent crimes after her son Marc was murdered, said victims’ family members should be guaranteed to have a voice in sentencing hearings — something she said she did not have when her son’s killer agreed to a plea deal.
Despain also said Arkansas should have a state agency that works with crime victims.
“Our state needs a system of recourse to address victims’ rights violations,” she said.
Brittney Humphrey, a former Miss Arkansas contestant who was a victim of child sexual abuse and has made the issue her platform, said children should be allowed to testify in sex-abuse trials via video technology so they do not have to be in the same room with their abusers.
“Victims are more than a witness or a piece of evidence in a trial,” she said.
Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, who is working with Douglas on the effort to craft a constitutional amendment on victims’ rights, said it is time to get to work on the issue.
“It’s time to begin the debate in earnest over what we’re going to do about it,” he said.