State House passes two bills on victims' rights

Mar 8, 2018

Credit user cedarbenddrive/Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

Victims would have more rights under bills passed by the state House Thursday.

One bill would require defendants be physically present in the courtroom when a victim or victim’s family gives an impact statement at sentencing. The other is aimed at making sure students don’t have to go to school with someone who sexually assaulted them.

Bill sponsor Holly Hughes says she was inspired by an event that took place in Muskegon County last December, when Jeffrey Willis blew a kiss to the courtroom as he exited. He left because he refused to listen to the victim impact statements of the family members of the woman he had murdered.

Hughes says, “We want to just make sure that victims’ rights are well above murderers’ rights and so we’re going to move this as fast as we possibly can.”

The other piece of legislation passed by the House Thursday would prevent someone who is convicted or has a juvenile adjudication for criminal sexual conduct against another student from being in the same school building as the victim.

Lawmakers say there’s currently a gap in the law – school officials can’t kick a student out of school unless the sexual assault happens on school grounds.

Republican Representative Lana Theis is a bill sponsor.

She says, “Requiring the victim to publicly beg for protection and carry this burden is simply unacceptable. It’s unconscionable that we have created a justice system where the victim is the one who is forced to change schools in order to find protection and safety.”

Critics of the legislation say students should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.