Manchester state reps learn about victim’s rights amendment

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From left, Sgt. Peter Marr, State Sen. Donna Soucy, and Lyn Schollet, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (NHCADSV). Photo/Laura Aronson

MANCHESTER, NHManchester state representatives  on Monday attended an information session about “Marsy’s Law,CACR 22, a proposed constitutional amendment for victims’ rights. Scott Spradling, chairman of the city Police Commission, organized and moderated the meeting at the police department on Valley Street.

Sgt. Peter Marr of the Domestic and Sexual Violence Unit attended instead of Chief Nick Willard, who was delayed by urgent business. Other attendees were Sen. Donna Soucy (D-18), and Lyn Schollet, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (NHCADSV), which is organizing the effort to pass Marsy’s Law.

The state representatives attending included Bob Backus (D-12), Erica Connors (D-8), Linda DiSilvestro (D-2), Armand Forest (D-11), Jean Jeudy (D-3), Pat Long (D-3), Barbara Shaw (D-9), and Connie Van Houten (D-10,11,12).

The representatives asked a wide range of questions. DiSilvestro gave Schollet a printed list of questions before the meeting started, and Schollet responded to them, promising to produce an FAQ document with answers.

Sgt. Marr said the police see criminal hearings postponed by defendants, “Again and again and again,” inconveniencing victims who take time off from work to attend. He said, “It happens every day,” and hopes the proposed amendment will address this problem. The amendment states, “A victim shall have the right […] to proceedings free from unreasonable delay and a prompt conclusion of the case.” The 22-item Victim Bill of Rights (RSA 21-M:8-k) does not include this right.

State Rep. Pat Long addresses a panel on Marsy’s Law held Monday at MPD headquarters. Photo/Laura Aronson

Representatives responses to the meeting

Van Houten declined to indicate how she expects to vote.

Long, who asked about the impact on juvenile defendants, said, “I haven’t seen the amendments, so I can’t commit right now. The meeting today was worthwhile, as the negative aspects came out.”

Backus, who practiced criminal law before his retirement, said, “I am opposed to Marsy’s Law. I don’t think we need to elevate the rights of the victim to the constitution, when we can do this through statutory protections. We enshrine the defendant’s rights in the constitution because they face the loss of liberty, and even of life.”

Backus added, “I have only heard anecdotal evidence that there is a problem. We have a very good court system here in New Hampshire, although some judges do make mistakes. I’m alarmed by the huge lobbying investment across the country. If this passes the legislature, they are ready to spend a million of dollars on TV ads. 

The bill is being considered and is under revision by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee jointly with the Judiciary committee. It is expected to go to a vote by the legislature the first week of May. It has already passed the senate. If both senate and legislature agree on final wording, and pass the amendment, it will appear on the ballot for voters in the November midterm election.