Rep. Berry: Marsy’s law for Montana will empower crime victims

On Dec. 30, 2000, my son was murdered by a drug dealer. The pain of that tragedy has diminished little for my family even 15 years later. I’ve learned that when you’re victimized by a crime like this, you’re a victim for life.

The criminal who murdered my son was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison. And even though we know he will be there for a long time, we also know that this case will likely never end.

For years, we’ve watched and participated in the court process, and will continue to be involved as the years move forward. He will eventually be up for parole, and we know that those parole hearings will dredge up all the pain of that loss all over again.

Respect for victims

No family should have to go through what mine went through. But crime is a difficult fact of life, even as our law enforcement has become better and better at preventing crime. When it does happen, we need to make sure that the victims receive the help and respect that they deserve.

This is why I’m a supporter of Marsy’s Law for Montana, a proposed constitutional amendment that would ensure that victims of crime are treated as well as individuals accused or convicted of crime.

Marsy’s Law would give victims of crime in Montana the right to be notified of proceedings occurring in their case and the right to be heard at those proceedings. It would also provide the right to protection from harassment and the right to be notified of changes in an offender’s custodial status, among others.

The rights afforded by Marsy’s Law are simple and straightforward. It doesn’t diminish the rights of defendants in any way — rather it elevates the status of victims so that courts consider both the victim and the defendant when making decisions.

I’m forever grateful to the prosecutor who handled my son’s murder case. He acted with professionalism and showed real compassion to my family. He did an excellent job, but even with his attentiveness to detail my family was still left out of a few critical developments in the case. For instance, we were never notified of an important hearing regarding victim restitution, and subsequently were not given an opportunity to be heard by the court.

I bring this up because I believe these are the types of oversights that Marsy’s Law will help to address. With Marsy’s Law, we would have been afforded a remedy for that hearing that we were left out of.

Sign the petition now

Law enforcement and prosecutors in Montana do an incredible job. I’ve seen them comfort and console families who’ve been victimized, and take the time to help crime victims through the difficult criminal justice process. But Marsy’s Law will ensure victims’ rights are respected every time, consistently.

As a constitutional amendment, Marsy’s Law needs to be passed by the voters in the 2016 General Election. To qualify for the ballot, we need to collect about 50,000 signatures from Montana voters. Marsy’s Law for Montana signature gatherers are in the field in cities across Montana right now — if you encounter one in your community, please take a moment to add your name to help us get on the ballot.

Victims of crime suffer enough. We can do more to ensure that they don’t endure further pain and frustration in the criminal justice system. Join me in supporting Marsy’s Law for Montana.

Tom Berry, R-Roundup, represents House District 40, which includes parts of Yellowstone and Musselshell counties


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