District Attorney Craig Stedman joined victims of crime, advocates, legislators, and other Pennsylvania district attorneys Tuesday in Harrisburg in support of those victims’ continued fight for more rights in the criminal justice process.
The group appeared at the State Capitol rotunda for Marsy’s Law, a proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution that would make victims’ rights constitutional rights.
The proposal has been introduced in both the House and Senate. This week, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the measure, so the full Senate can vote on the bill. To amend the constitution, a proposal must pass both legislative chambers in two consecutive legislative sessions and then be approved by voters.
Other district attorneys and Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association members on hand were: Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele, Lebanon County District Attorney David Arnold, Washington County District Attorney Eugene Vittone, Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo, and York County District Attorney David Sunday.
District Attorney Stedman’s full remarks are below:
“Good morning. My name is Craig Stedman, and I am the District Attorney of Lancaster County and member of the Executive Committee of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. I am incredibly pleased to be here with my fellow DA’s– Dave Arnold from Lebanon County, Dave Sunday from York County, Fran Chardo from Dauphin County, and Kevin Steele from Montgomery County.
“It is an honor to be here with our advocates as well as our legislators, and, above all, the victims. But, it is also sobering to know that we are here especially because of those we have lost - and those who have been forever altered, if not shattered by crime.
“We heard the number of victims we have, and we know that those victims come to us, the prosecutors, seeking justice. So we strive to hold offenders accountable and to make our communities safer. But there is more: we stand up for victims to help them achieve a measure of both justice and closure.
“We do this because victimization is not about stats and numbers. It is about real people -- people who do not deserve what happened to them.
“So what do victims want? They want to be safe-- made whole-- their wounds healed-- their property restored. They want the defendant held accountable. And they want to be heard.
“In Pennsylvania, we have a robust Crime Victims Act that provides significant protections to our victims. The Act, with the work of our advocates, has helped ensure that our victims have information and protections. Unfortunately, the simple truth is that the protections we have are not uniformly enforced and do not always achieve the intended results. That’s why we are here: to ensure the foundation for Victims’ Rights in Pennsylvania is as strong as it needs to be, and as it should be.
“No speech can convey the pain, the loss, and suffering so many have endured at the hands of criminals. No law school class prepared me for the true impact of crime and how to look into the eyes of victims and tell them what happened to their loved one. Yet, all too often our adversarial system seems to only be about the defendant and his or her rights.
“We do trials in which days and even weeks go by without a mention of the victim- and we instead focused on the defendant’s rights – the right to counsel, and/or the 4th, 5th, 6th amendment – all of the rights that are appropriately protected in our Constitution.
“But you know what? The foundation of our country is liberty and justice. And the number one right is the right to safety – the right to live your life free from crime, without being a victim. Quite simply, people have the right to live, work, and raise a family without fear of burglary, assault, robbery, or worse. That is the foundation of liberty.
“Victims of those crimes absolutely deserve a strong voice in the courtroom, and that is a foundation of justice. And so when we act on victims’ rights we promote liberty and justice, not just for the victim but also, for the entire state.
“To really do that, victims need their own constitutional protections so they can be on the same level as their offenders – equal status under the law. The rights we are talking about just make sense: the right to have notice; to be heard; to be present; the right to restitution; and the ability to assert these rights.
“Victims and their families put their trust in us – the prosecutors – at the worst times in their lives. Many of them will always remember being a victim and being at the mercy of their offender. So we simply must have a system which honors and respects those who have suffered and those who have endured.
“They, in turn, can have the chance, the power, and the voice to say – if they will, “I am no longer your victim here today and here is what I have to say.” With this amendment- those words will finally resonate through our courtrooms, bolstered not only by liberty and justice but also by our Constitution.
“There is a provision at the beginning of the proposed Amendment that says the victim shall have the right to be treated with “fairness and respect for the victim’s safety.” This provision is not merely aspirational. It is the entire point – fairness and respect.”
Special thank you’s to Senator Reschenthaler and Representative Delozier for leading the efforts to enact Marcy’s Law. By taking the lead and standing with victims and their advocates, you have shown enormous fairness and respect for victims and will finally give them the power – and the voice they deserve.