Our Constitution is the foundation for our government. It limits government power and recognizes individual rights. I respect our Constitutions, both state and federal, and do not propose amendments lightly. The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution were adopted to give formal recognition to essential political and civil rights such as freedom of speech and of the press, free exercise of religion, the right to keep and bear arms, the prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures of property, and trial by jury. Iowans have amended their Constitution in the past to eliminate discrimination on the basis of race in voting rights, to provide that women may serve as legislators, to grant home rule powers to municipalities, and to provide for the election of county attorneys, among other matters. These changes in the Iowa Constitution have always been based upon experience, and adopted after careful consideration and public debate.
Experience shows today that an amendment is sorely needed to recognize and protect the rights of innocent victims of crime. The Iowa Constitution already establishes rights of criminal defendants. But there is no state constitutional protection for their victims– and there should be.
A proposal before the legislature this year would amend our State’s constitution to meet this need. After careful consideration and review, I support this amendment, and would encourage you to support it as well. Marsy’s Law would amend Iowa’s Constitution to protect the rights of victims.
Iowa is one of only fifteen states without constitutional protection for victims of crime. This must change. Just as criminal defendants have protections outlined in the constitution—the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney and so on—so too should their victims have rights specified in the constitution. Without specific constitutional provisions to protect crime victims, the Iowa criminal justice system too often disregards them or treats them as if their legal status were inferior to that of criminal defendants. No victim should be treated like a second-class citizen. I hope that neither you nor a loved one is victimized by a criminal, but the reality is that it can happen at any time. And it is simply wrong that a rapist should have more rights than an innocent victim.
By providing for them specifically in the Iowa Constitution, Marsy’s Law would affirm crime victims’ rights, and would require that legislation and other acts of the government honor and protect those rights. This constitutional amendment specifically addresses these rights:
- Victims’ rights protected in a manner not less than the rights of a defendant
- Victim shall be treated with fairness and dignity by the state
- Victims’ safety and privacy shall be respected
- Victim shall have right to notice of all proceedings, to be present, and a right to be heard
- Victim shall be entitled to timely restitution, proceedings free from delay, and a prompt conclusion of a criminal case
- Victim shall have right to confer with the attorney for the government
- Be informed of all rights
As a prosecutor and a conservative, I know and recognize the significance and value of our Constitution. I zealously defend it every day. Iowa must amend our Constitution to protect the rights of victims with dignity and respect. We must give innocent Iowans a voice in our courts. It’s time for Marsy’s Law.
Previously, Bird was Chief of Staff and Counsel for Congressman Steve King and Counsel to Governor Terry Branstad, and was the Republican Party’s nominee for Attorney General of Iowa in 2010. She has also taught at the University of Iowa Law School.
Bird received her undergraduate degree at Drake University and her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School.