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The Alleged Victim Just Got New Rights. Did the Accused Just Lose Some?

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On November 6, 2018, voters approved Amendment 6, which amended the Florida Constitution to vastly expand the rights of victims of alleged crimes.  Amendment 6 took effect on January 8, 2019.  While the goal of enhancing victims’ rights certainly sounds noble, it appears that Amendment 6 has altered the criminal justice system in a way that deprives persons accused of crime of their fundamental constitutional rights.

Before Amendment 6, the Florida Constitution already provided that victims of crime “are entitled to 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.”  Through Amendment 6, victims’ rights must be protected “in a manner no less vigorous than protections afforded to criminal defendants.”  The limitation that victims’ rights cannot interfere with the constitutional rights of the accused has been deleted.

But, regardless of these changes to the Florida Constitution, a criminal defendant has a right to due process under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which is the supreme and controlling document.  There are two provisions in particular that jeopardize the due process rights of criminal defendants.  The first is that the victim has the right to “prevent the disclosure of information or records that could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family.”  This language seems to indicate that an accused could be deprived of information about who the victim is and where he or she lives.  This would interfere with the defendant’s ability to interview, depose, and investigate the victim’s background — to see, for example, if he or she has a criminal record.  All of these things are essential to preparing a defense.  Imagine being told by the government that you are charged with pointing a gun at some unidentified person on some date in the past.  Without knowing —-.

The second provision that most threatens the constitutional rights of the accused is that the prosecutor, on behalf of the victim, can demand a speedy trial.  The court must then hold a calendar call within 15 days and set trial within 60 days of the calendar call, unless the trial judge enters an order with specific findings of fact justifying a later trial date.  In a complex case, pretrial preparation can take many months.  A defendant’s right to due process includes the right to prepare a defense.  But with the Florida Constitution now stating that victims are entitled to equal rights, which no longer must yield to the constitutional rights of the accused, there is great concern that trial judges will grant speedy trials without due regard to the needs of the defendant.

Amendment 6 represents a step forward for victims of alleged crimes.  But those accused of crimes will need effective representation to ensure that the system is not stepping on their rights to due process.

If you have been charged or if you are being investigated, call the aggressive, experienced and knowledgeable attorneys of Perlet & Shiner, P.A. to defend your rights.  If you are a victim of crime, call us too.  Your rights should be protected.

Written by:

Nancy Vorpe Quinlan, Esquire

Of Counsel

Perlet & Shiner, P.A.

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