Amendment 6, which passed Tuesday with about 62 percent of the vote, has a threefold effect: it creates a bill of rights for crime victims and establishes two new sets of requirements for judges.
The first part of the amendment, which was proposed by the Constitution Revision Commission, is the victim bill of rights. Modeled after California’s Marsy’s Law, the provision maintains that courts and law enforcement personnel inform victims and families of what is going on during prosecution.
The current state constitution says victims have the right to “be informed, to be present, and to be heard when relevant, at all crucial stages of criminal proceedings, to the extent that these rights do not interfere with the constitutional rights of the accused.”
The victims bill of rights spells out a detailed list of 11 rights, which includes freedom from intimidation or harassment, protection from the accused and having their safety considered when authorities set bail or pretrial release of the accused.
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Greg Ungru, director of Marsy’s Law for Florida, said the passage was a win for both political parties.
“The voters of the Sunshine State stood up strong for crime victims today, making a bold statement that the time is now for equal rights for crime victims in Florida’s Constitution,” Ungru said. “Today was a true bipartisan victory. It was not about Republicans or Democrats, but about men and women who have been victims of crime being treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
The second part of the item bumps judges’ mandatory retirement age from 70 to 75, which will be effective July 1. The third and final part requires judges and hearing officers to interpret statutes and rules themselves instead of deferring to governmental agencies. Essentially, this forces courts and judges to decide if a state agency interpreted the law correctly before coming to a decision.
The ballot proposal was almost taken off the ballot completely after two sets of plaintiffs argued that the title and summary were misleading to voters.
Mark Herron, an attorney for one group of plaintiffs, told the Herald/Times in September that the ballot summary didn’t fully summarize the amendment’s impact on a defendant’s appeals process or right to a speedy trial. Another attorney, Harvey Sepler, said the amendment had too many parts and infringed on the right “to exercise a free and meaningful vote.”
This issue of “logrolling,” or combining multiple issues in one amendment, is the subject of an ongoing case brought by retired state Supreme Court chief justice Harry Lee Anstead and former Florida Elections commissioner Robert Barnas. In August, Anstead asked that the court remove the six CRC amendments that combine different issues. But because individual cases regarding amendments 6, 8, 13 and 10 had separate cases filed challenging their stance on the ballot, those questions were dropped from the Anstead case.
The state Constitution does not have a limit on how many subjects a CRC amendment can include.
While supporters say the amendment — particularly the Marsy’s Law portion — equals the rights of victims and the accused, some call it misleading.
An amendment to the constitution is difficult to change, some attorneys say, and adds short appeals deadlines that would be hard to keep up with.
Amendment 6 has also been criticized for potentially dumping additional responsibility onto the justice system.
The amendment had support from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers. Most sheriffs supported the amendment, but the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters opposed it. They fear the amendment would infringe on accused peoples’ rights.