DES MOINES, Iowa – On Thursday, the Iowa Senate Judiciary Committee passed an amended version of a proposed amendment, SJR 8, that would add a statement about victims’ rights in the Iowa Constitution unanimously.
The original proposed amendment says:
Crime victims —— rights. The following rights of a victim, being capable of protection without denying the constitutional rights of the defendant, shall not be denied or abridged by the state. A victim shall have the right to reasonable notice of, and shall not be excluded from, public proceedings relating to the offense; to be heard at any release, plea, sentencing, or other proceeding involving any right established by this section; to proceedings free from unreasonable delay; to reasonable notice of the release or escape of the defendant; to due consideration of a victim’s safety, dignity, and privacy; and to restitution. A victim or a lawful representative of a victim has standing to assert and enforce these rights. This section shall not provide grounds for a new trial for a defendant or for any claim of damages. Review of the denial of any right established herein, which may include interlocutory relief, shall be subject to standards of ordinary appellate review.
A victim includes any person against whom a criminal offense is committed or who is directly and proximately harmed by the commission of an act, which if committed by a competent adult, would constitute a crime.
State Senator Zach Whiting, R-Spirit Lake, the author of the bill who introduced it into committee, said that his original purpose was to introduce “buckets” of rights into the constitution.
“My goal in all of this is to level the playing field between the rights of the defendant and the rights of crime victims. We had a good discussion, I think, the subcommittee on this. And one of the things that I point out is that when while crime is prosecuted by the state, that is when the defendant commits a crime, the full power and weight of the state come against the individual we grant them broad constitutional protections as we should. But most often, the crime is committed against an individual. And so what can we do then, to ensure that those victims of crime have robust rights,” he said.
Whiting pointed out that Iowa has strong victims’ rights language in the Iowa Code, but emphasized these rights need to be constitutionalized.
“Ultimately, when the defendant’s constitutional right conflicts with the victim’s statutory right, the defendant’s constitutional right is always going to win,” he added.
He offered an amendment to SJR 8, that shortened the proposed amendment to one sentence that says, “The rights of a victim of crime as provided by law shall not be infringed.”
Whiting also addressed his concern about victims’ rights as they relate to criminal justice reform.
“We’re having a sort of a broader criminal justice reform movement across the country. And I sort of shared the term that I’ve heard Senator Cotton apply to it – a jailbreak. And I have some concerns about that. And I want to make sure that not lost in this discussion on criminal justice reform is robust protection for victims, for crime victims,” he stated.
The amendment to SJR 8 passed unanimously as did the amended bill. Two similar bills were introduced in the Iowa House of Representatives last session, but never received a committee vote.