Lawmakers Consider Establishing Crime Victim's Bill of Rights in Maine Constitution

AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - Every state constitution in America has established rights for people accused of crimes and those convicted.

But Maine is one of more than a dozen states that doesn't extend those same rights to crime victims.

A bill before lawmakers aims to change that.

"When you ask Maine voters 'do you believe victims deserve equal rights in the Constitution,' it's an overwhelming majority of Maine voters- roughly 77% based on our polling done- support this question," said Marsy's Law for Maine State Director Christopher Quint.

Addressing crime victims' rights in the state's criminal code, as is currently the case, is not enough for the supporters of Marsy's Law for Maine.

Legislation brought forth last year that was carried over and recently amended would enshrine the rights and protections of crime victims in the state's Constitution that are equal to those who are accused or convicted of causing them harm.

"I was never notified when my offender was released from prison after he had served his sentence."

Holly Giles joined the Marsy's Law cause weeks ago in response to the MeToo and TimesUp social media movements that have empowered victims to tell their stories and take action.

Giles was a victim of rape 14 years ago in Standish and she says the years since may have been more peaceful for her and her family if Marsy's Law were in effect.

"I could have made safety precautions for myself and I could have been able to have plans in place to keep me and my family safe. And without that notification, I was left wondering and traumatized by the fact that I didn't know what was going on or where that person was," said Giles.

"I am very wary of any language that couches this as a victims' rights, in other words we are bestowing something on somebody, versus we are challenging or potentially eroding the rights of the accused," said Rep. Barbara Cardone, (D) Bangor.

Opponents of the constitutional amendment to establish a victims' bill of rights fear it may take away rights of the accused.

Kennebec and Somerset County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney supports the resolution.

"To be informed when the accused is released from custody or has escaped, that doesn't in any way harm the defendant or take away from the defendant's rights," said Maloney.

In order to amend Maine's Constitution, it must be supported by two-thirds of the legislature and be approved by voters. Another bill currently under consideration also seeks to strengthen the rights of crime victims.

"The two bills go very well together. The bill that I presented creates a change in statute that a victim is notified if their perpetrator escapes either jail or a mental institute," said Rep. Erin Herbig, (D) Belfast.

Both bills were tabled for further discussion on Monday by the state's Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee.