By Dan Van Ness
According to Susannah Sheffer, author of the blog maintained by Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights (MVFHR). the New Hampshire legislature has just adopted several important bills to expand the rights of crime victims in that state. These have now gone to the governor for signature.
One was the Crime Victims Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination against crime victims based on their opposition to the death penalty. Dignity Denied: the Experience of Murder Victims’ Family Members who Oppose the Death Penalty, a report issued in 2002 by Murder Victims’ Families for Reconciliation (MVFR), documented ways that crime victims who oppose the death penalty fail to receive same rights extended to those who do. In particular, they are sometimes denied three rights: 1) the right to speak and be heard (by courts and/or parole and pardon boards), 2) the right to information (from prosecutors seeking the death penalty) and 3) the right to assistance and advocacy (by victim support services housed in prosecutors’ offices).
One of the authors of Dignity Denied was Renny Cushing, then Executive Director of MVFR. He is currently a state representative in New Hampshire and was the legislator who introduced the bills described in this article. (The other author was Susannah Sheffer.)
The second bill expands coverage of the victims’ compensation fund to include “a family member of a law enforcement officer, an inmate at a state or county correctional facility, and an individual who is not a citizen of the United States or who is not a legal alien.” It also expands the kinds of expenses covered, including “rehabilitative expenses, expenses associated with the victim’s participation in post-conviction proceedings and victim-offender dialogue programs or other restorative justice programs.”
The final bill added “the right to access to restorative justice programs including victim-initiated victim-offender dialogue programs offered through the department of corrections to the victim bill of rights and requires the office of victim/witness assistance to provide information on such programs.”
These are important developments. Have other jurisdictions adopted any of these measures?