Lawmakers looking to put victims' rights into state constitution

By  | 

Tallahassee, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - A proposal to put victims' rights in the state constitution cleared a committee of the Constitutional Revision Commission Friday morning.

However, defense lawyers worry it could lead to more innocent people going to prison.

Mike Liles’ wife was murdered in a home invasion last year.

“I came home and found my wife beaten to death on the floor of our kitchen," said Liles.

Since then, he’s been dealing with a lengthy legal process in an attempt to convict the man accused of killing his wife. It’s a process he says isn’t sensitive to victims.

“It's a frustrating system to follow. It's a frustrating system to understand and you never know exactly what rights you do have," Liles explained.

A proposed ballot measure moving through the Constitutional Revision Commission known as Marsy’s Law aims to help people like Liles. It would guarantee a set of victims' rights in the state’s constitution.

Commissioner Don Gaetz said, “They ought to have rights as well. They ought to have prerogatives. They ought to have the opportunity to have their voice heard.”

Lawyers say because the proposal allows victims to refuse to give a deposition to the defense team, it could lead to more innocent people being convicted.

Stacy Scott, a Public Defender in the 8th Judicial Circuit said, “The ability to question a witness and a victim under oath prior to a trial is paramount to be able to test the credibility of their allegations and to advise our clients about whether proceeding forward with a trial is a good idea or not.”

Commissioner Timothy Cerio is the sponsor of the proposal. He says when it comes to victim depositions, Florida is the outlier.

“We are one of only five states in the union that have depositions for victims, so 45 other states don't allow it," said Cerio.

Florida is among just 15 states that don’t guarantee victims' rights in their state constitution.

It will be several months before the full Constitution Revision Commission decides if Marsy’s Law should be on the November ballot. If it makes it on the ballot it would need 60 percent of voters to approve it to become part of the Constitution.