SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — Under Marsy’s Law, a crime victim in California has the right to be notified of all legal proceedings in a case and address the judge before a defendant makes a plea or is sentenced. All too often, however, victims never get their day in court.
KCBS reporter Doug Sovern’s investigation takes a look into the failure of California prosecutors to uphold victims’ rights.
In late July, Jenny, who doesn’t want to reveal her last name, was assaulted by a panhandler outside the Glen Park BART station. Her assailant was arrested for felony assault. The police explained to Jenny’s rights under Marsy’s Law, the California Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights, passed in 2008. Jenny asserted her rights including the right to address the court before her attacker goes to trial.
Jenny asked if she could speak in front of the judge and was told she would get a chance at the preliminary hearing on Aug. 13.
But on Aug. 9 she met with her victim’s advocate at the district attorney’s office in preparation for her testimony when the advocate discovered the case had been resolved—the previous day.
“She wasn’t alerted,” Jenny said, referring to her advocate. “She was just as amazed as I was that he was charged with a lesser count of battery and—bada bing, bada boom—everything was over.”
The defendant pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery, received three years probation and an order to stay away from Jenny because he told police that he would attack her again—a fact that prosecutors failed tell her.
“I feel like I’ve been kicked up my butt at least three times over by the justice system if I already wasn’t brutalized enough by that random attacker,” Jenny said.
KCBS asked District Attorney George Gascon why prosecutors did not follow Marsy’s Law.
“We are strict followers of Marsy’s Law,” he said. “Anytime that you have human beings in any system there’s going to be mistakes, right?”
The defendant was in jail for 12 days and on Aug. 8 he asked to be released on his own recognizance. The public defender showed the district attorney’s office a surveillance video and suggested the Jenny may have pushed her attacker first,
KCBS reviewed the video which is inconclusive but the attorneys immediately made a plea deal and the defendant went free and the prosecutor didn’t notify the victim which is required by law.
Gascon said that his office was “caught by surprise” about the hearing.
“But to say that we have not been in contact with her is completely inaccurate,” he said.
But Jenny wasn’t told about the hearing, the guilty plea, or the additional threat. Meg Garvin, Director of the National Crime Victim Law Institute, said she should have been.
“She should have had the right to be notified, present and heard at any proceeding—let alone before a plea deal and sentencing,” she said.
Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who helped write and pass Marsy’s Law, said that San Francisco’s prosecutors made a huge mistake.
“The victim has a right to be outraged” he said.
What may be more disturbing, however, is that Jenny’s case is not an isolate one.
Doug Sovern reports on other cases, in Part Three of his Cover Story series, Marsy’s Law, airing Thursday, Oct. 3, at 6:32 a.m., 8:32 a.m., 12:32 p.m. and 4:32 p.m. on 740AM & 106.9FM.
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