Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights to appear on Illinois November ballot

By Josh Winters

This November, voters in Illinois could pass an amendment to the state’s constitution that expands the legal rights of victims of violent crime and provide them with additional legal protections.

The Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights aims to provide victims with additional safety and peace of mind. 

The reforms within the amendment would give victims of violent crime twelve new or modified rights, such as: to be notified when the accused is released from prison, to be notified of relevant court proceedings, to a timely disposition of their case and to appeal legal decisions that affect their capacity to exercise those rights. 

“Victims of crime and their surviving families are entitled to a range of rights under clearly established law, but rights such as those to be notified of court proceedings and to deliver an impact statement at sentencing are too often ignored,” said Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, director of Marsy’s Law for Illinois, in a press release. “Amending our constitution will enhance the safety of crime victims and provide an appropriate opportunity for them to participate in the judicial process.”

The amendment is modeled after Marsy’s Law, an amendment added to California’s constitution in November 2008. 

Illinois legislature approved the amendment to appear on November’s ballot earlier this year with a sizable majority; roughly 98 percent of the Illinois House of Representatives voted in support. 

The Illinois Senate approved the amendment unanimously shortly afterwards. 

While a 1992 amendment to the Illinois constitution titled “Illinois Crime Victim Rights” sought to implement similar legal protections for victims of violent crime, proponents of the Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights said that it failed to offer victims all of their essential rights.

“The amendment to the Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights is a remedy to this situation,” said Bishop-Jenkins. “(It) reflects years of discussion and refinement among victim advocates, prosecutors and law enforcement officials. We anticipate broad and diverse support for this common-sense reform.”

The amendment has already received support from several influential figures in Illinois government, including Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon. 

Champaign State Rep., Naomi Jakobsson, D-103, was one of the sponsors to the amendment and voted to approve it for this fall’s ballot. 

State Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-52, who represents Champaign County in the state senate, also voted in support. 

A large coalition of nonprofit organizations have also voiced its support of the Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights, including: the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Illinois, the Illinois Coalition against Domestic Violence and the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence. 

While the proposed amendment would implement changes in the legal process for victims of violent crime, Illinois law enforcement would not have to significantly change how they handle investigations. 

Both Urbana Police Chief Patrick Connolly and University of Illinois Deputy Chief of Police Skip Frost are supportive of the amendment, although they both stated that aside from enforcing the new law, their departments would not have to make any changes to how they approach cases involving violent crime. 

“I have zero issues with violent offenders having higher bonds or that victims of violent criminals have protections for their own piece of mind and safety,” said Frost. 

Election day in Illinois will take place on Nov. 4. To find polling locations and further information, check www.elections.il.gov. 

Josh can be reached at [email protected]