Marsy's Law for New Hampshire - Two Decades in The Making

By Sandi Matheson, former Director of the Office of Victim/Witness Assistance at the New Hampshire Department of Justice


Marsy’s Law for New Hampshire represents two decades of advocates’ work to establish enforceable rights for victims of crime. It is not a new or out-of-state initiative, but one that advocates in the Granite State have been preparing for since the 1990s.

Twenty-five years ago, as the former Director of the Office of Victim and Witness Assistance at the New Hampshire Department of Justice, I joined my colleagues in a report detailing New Hampshire’s progress on victims’ initiatives that recommended the passage of a constitutional amendment for victims rights.

Our efforts were part of the nationwide victims’ rights movement that began in the 1970s, when many realized that as a public prosecution system became the norm and victims were pushed to the margins, the criminal justice system had become appallingly out of balance. Changes were made to state statutes and constitutions, as well as federal statutes, to define and afford explicit legal status to crime victims.

Since then, all 50 states have enacted statutory and rule-based protections for victims and more than 30 states have amended their constitutions to provide enforceable, enumerated rights for victims of crime. While these protections vary from state to state, they are all aimed at reintegrating the victim into the criminal and juvenile justice systems, as our founders intended when victims were responsible for prosecuting their own cases.

In 1991, New Hampshire was one of the last states to pass a Victims Bill of Rights statute. Today, we find ourselves in a similar position--we are 1 of just fifteen states that has not yet enshrined victims’ rights in our state constitution.

While we are fortunate to have a “Victim’s Bill of Rights,” it is no longer enough. Victims are still being lost in the shuffle and often their rights are being trumped by the rights of the accused and convicted. Marsy’s Law for NH would guarantee victims basic, enforceable rights equal to those of the accused and convicted - no more, no less. CACR 22 does not take away any of the rights of the accused or the convicted. Instead, it provides crime victims with equal rights and ensures they have a meaningful voice in the criminal justice system.

For 25 years, we’ve been working towards this goal. It is past time to move forward with Marsy’s Law for New Hampshire.