Tim Cerio: Marsy’s Law for Florida brings fairness to criminal justice system

marcy's law

As a member of Florida’s legal community, I take very seriously any proposed changes to our state’s constitution.

In my role as a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), I will carefully weigh any proposal before us based on the need to have these proposals embedded in our state’s most powerful legal document.

While amending our constitution is not something I take lightly, I do feel strongly about a proposed constitutional amendment I put forward called Marsy’s Law for Florida (CRC Proposal 96). This measure would ensure that victims and their families are provided with the same level of rights and protections as those given to the accused and convicted.

Marsy’s Law for Florida is a pro-victims’ rights proposal, but to me, it is more about bringing equity to the criminal justice process.

The United States Constitution enumerates 20 distinct rights to those accused or convicted of crimes. The victims or the family members they leave behind when a tragic loss of life has occurred have absolutely no rights. While those who are accused or convicted have 20 different rights, the victims and their families – Floridians who were thrust into the criminal justice system by the acts of others – have none. There is no equity in that.

I want to be very clear that the accused are entitled to their rights, as they should be. They deserve to have every single right currently provided to them under federal and state law. Nothing should change there at all.

What should change is that victims should have the same level of rights and protections too.

The U.S. Constitution is silent on victims’ rights. Our state constitution does not have to be.

Individual states have the power to include victims’ rights and protections in their constitutions. Most states have already done so. Florida is one of only 15 states that does not provide constitutional-level protections for victims of crimes. As the third largest state in the nation, we should be leading the way on the issues facing our society, including victims’ rights, not lagging behind.

Marsy’s Law for Florida is the answer. This measure would provide victims of crime and their families with clear, enforceable constitutional protections – just the same as those afforded to the accused and convicted. Nothing more and nothing less. By giving victims and their families co-equal rights to the convicted and accused, we will empower them to take an active role in their case and guarantee that they, at least, have the ability to be heard.

Marsy’s Law is gaining momentum across the country. It has already been enacted in six other states. Most recently, in November, Marsy’s Law passed in Ohio with 83 percent of Ohioans voting in favor of it. We know there is overwhelming support for Marsy’s Law here in Florida.

According to a poll conducted in October, 87 percent of likely Florida voters believe victims should have, at the very least, the same level of protections in the state constitution as those given to those accused of committing crimes.

I appreciate the support of Floridians and the support of my fellow CRC members Patricia Levesque, Darlene Jordan, Fred Karlinsky, Jeanette Nuñez, Brecht Heuchan and Sen. Darryl Rouson who are co-sponsoring my proposal.

Today, Marsy’s Law for Florida will be put to a vote by the CRC Declaration of Rights committee. I urge the members of that committee to vote in favor of Marsy’s Law for Florida so voters will have a chance to decide for themselves if victims and the accused and convicted should be on equal footing in the criminal justice process.

We have a unique, once-in-20-year opportunity to ensure Floridians who are victimized, and their families, are treated fairly following a crime. Let’s bring equity to our criminal justice system. Let’s pass Marsy’s Law for Florida.


Tim Cerio is a member of the 2017-2018 Florida Constitution Revision Commission and an attorney who practices law in Tallahassee.

Guest Author


  • Adam Elend

    January 19, 2018 at 1:44 pm

    Some of the Marsy’s Law rights are, indeed, important to ensuring fairness for victims. Others of those laws directly erode the rights of the accused, such as the discovery provisions. Those are unacceptable, and should be removed by the CRC.

    The reality is that victims have many many rights in the constitution, and those include all the rights you ascribe to the accused. We all have the exact same rights that protect us. It’s disingenuous to frame it the way you did.

    Provisions that force the government to inform and notice victims are important. Provisions that inject victims into the criminal legal process are completely improper. A victim has the right to sue for restitution in civil court, which as far as their rights can extend in a fair criminal proceeding.

    Victims are much more left out of the prosecution process than they are the judicial process at large, and yet your law does not do enough to address those problems. A good victim’s rights law would worry less about the politics, and more about what is really impacting those victims.

    How about a provision that mandates a percentage of criminal fines get allocated for victim counseling and support in the States Attorneys offices? How about mandating a victim advocate position in every States Attorneys office? How about allowing the victim to have veto power over a prosecutorial choice to seek the death penalty?

  • Bill Newton

    January 19, 2018 at 2:19 pm

    Why does Mr. Cerio repeatedly trash the US Constitution in his article? Over and over he says the US Constitution, which protects our liberties, does not protect victims. The US Constitution is not a problem and we don’t need Mr. Cerio to fix it.

    As an attorney, Mr. Cerio certainly knows the fallacy in his argument that victims need equal rights compared to defendants. Of course, almost everyone, including me, supports victims and offer them my sympathy and any help possible. But victims rights are not equivalent to defendants rights in the way Mr. Cerio suggests. First, the US Constitution applies to everyone equally, defendants and victims. They have exactly the same rights under the Constitution. And, duh, victims are not being accused of crimes like the defendants, so they don’t need the same protections. Yes, victims have been done wrong, often egregiously, but they are in no way comparable to the accused.

    This bill is mostly just to promote a couple of career politicians who have made misleading and irritating ads that say how much they want to help victims of crime, like everyone does, but don’t mention this bill will do exactly nothing. In fact, for some reason, Mr Cerio doesn’t say anywhere in the article what he thinks the bill will do for victims. It won’t undo their losses, that’s for sure. What is it we’re supposedly not doing for victims now? Nowhere does anyone say what problem this is actually solving.

    Unfortunately, we’ll have to listen to this for months an it will undoubtedly pass with 80% of the vote.

  • A. Russell Smith

    January 19, 2018 at 2:58 pm

    While we all have compassion for victims of violent crime, Marsy’s Law is ill-conceived and has the potential to do far more harm than good.
    A constitution is intended to enumerate the rights of individuals, as a limitation on the power of government. It is not intended to be used to pit some citizens against others.
    The enumerated protections for citizens accused of crime are necessary to ensure that innocent people do not go to prison. Marcy’s Rule would compromise that protection.
    Would you be willing to see your child go to prison for something he didn’t do, because Marsy”s Law prevented his lawyer from questioning the alleged victim? Marsy’s Law would allow alleged victims to veto depositions in criminal cases, making that very likely.
    Marsy’s Law, will cause Florida’s Constitution to conflict with the Confrontation Clause of the U.S. Constitution, meaning alleged victims could be victimized twice, once when their case originally goes to court, and again, when it goes back to court after the defendant wins an appeal.
    Without depositions, defense lawyers will file motions that require pre-trial hearings, and victims will have to testify in open court instead of privately, in deposition rooms.
    And, because open discovery in criminal cases was part of comprehensive criminal justice reform that included many provisions that made it easier and faster to prosecute crime, such as charging by Information, there is the potential that interfering with open discovery may force Florida to return to the days when every crime must be charged by Indictment, meaning thousands more people will be called to grand jury duty every month. The potential cost to the taxpayers, if Marsy’s Law is made part of Florida’s Constitution, will be crippling.
    They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Marsy’s Law is a road Florida should not travel.

Comments are closed.


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