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Advocates seek constitutional amendment on crime victims’ rights

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PHOENIX – Heather Grossman can no longer brush her hair, hold a bottle of water to her lips, hug her three children.

That’s because 14 years ago, when she lived in Florida, Grossman was shot through her spinal cord by men hired by her ex-husband, who later was sentenced to life in prison.

“As the bullet entered my spinal cord it shattered many of my hopes and dreams,” Grossman said at an event marking Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

Eight days before the shooting, Grossman attempted unsuccessfully to have a judge jail her husband, who was behind on child support, saying she was afraid he was planning to kill her.

“From my personal experience, the criminal justice system does not take victims’ complaints seriously,” she said at a luncheon outside the State Capitol.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, another speaker at the event sponsored by the U.S. Office of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime, praised a resolution co-sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., that would add a Federal Victims’ Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The amendment would give victims the right to speak at any plea or sentencing hearing, to be given reasonable notice of the release or escape of the person who harmed them and to restitution.

Arizona law already has similar provisions, dubbed the Victims’ Bill of Rights, but Montgomery said a federal constitutional amendment would change the the way crime victims are treated nationally.

“We have a criminal justice system that over time has become concerned with criminal defendants’ rights but has lost sight of victims’ rights,” Montgomery said.

Bill Marling, executive director of the National Organization for Victim Assistance, a nonprofit group that promotes victims’ rights, said Arizona has been on the cutting edge of victims’ rights legislation but that enforcement of those laws has lagged.

“A U.S. constitutional amendment would give Arizona laws more weight to be enforced,” Marling said. “Plus, most people already assume that there are victims’ rights in the federal Constitution.”