Victims' Rights Bills Become Georgia Law - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

04/11/05

Victims' Rights Bills Become Georgia Law

District attorney Spencer Lawton welcomes the new laws. District attorney Spencer Lawton welcomes the new laws.

Today Georgia governor Sonny Purdue signed two bills into law that give the victims of crime more rights, and that has many people in the Coastal Empire cheering.

Victims have been fighting for years for some of these changes and they say these rights give much-needed balance to the criminal justice system.

When someone you love is the victim of crime, you become a victim, too. Candlelight vigils help many people find comfort for their loss; now new Georgia laws will help people find justice.

Today the Criminal Justice Act of 2005 and the Crime Victim's Restitution Act of 2005 were signed into law. Locals love the idea of more rights.

"Any time you give the victims more rights, I think that's a good idea," said Andrew Madrid of Savannah.

"I'm glad to hear it, it's good that it's finally being taken care of," said Jaquitta Bonaparte.

Chatham County prosecutors and victims advocates couldn't wait to share the news. "Really the most important thing about a crime isn't the defendant, it's the victim for crying out loud, that's who got hurt here," said district attorney Spencer Lawton.

Under the the new laws, it is now easier for victims to receive restitution from the person who committed the crimes. It doesn't matter if the criminal is a juvenile or has already served time, they have to pay victims back for what they took.

Another part of the law helps prosecutors during a trial. It allows them to go last during closing arguments, so what they say is the last thing juries hear before deliberating. Plus, prosecutors will now have equal say as to who sits on a jury.

"We're excited," said Helen Bradley of the Victim-Witness Assistance Program. "We've been trying for years and years, victims advocates and prosecutors across the state have been trying for about 20 years to get equal jury selection and now it's a reality, so it's real exciting."

And groundbreaking. It's the most dramatic change in Georgia's criminal justice system in almost a quarter of a century.

The new laws take effect this July 1.

Reported by: Michelle Paynter, mpaynter@wtoc.com

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