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Letter to the editor: Justices on ballot should be replaced

Letter to the Editor • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:55 PM

To the Editor:

I have been a victim advocate for the past 15 years, and as such, have had the honor of working with all types of victimizations. During this election, voters will have the opportunity to decide if they want to retain Supreme Court justices Wade, Clark and Lee.  Many readers have probably seen some of the ads being played on both sides that have focused on politics and labels; however, I want to turn our attention to what is really at stake here – victims’ rights and public safety.

A Facebook page, which can be found at facebook.com/retentionvote, has been established to help educate about this vote and the opinions that are most troubling. Decades have been dedicated to obtaining the few rights victims have in our court system. In the stroke of a pen, justices Clark, Lee and Wade have begun the process of unraveling that work. On the surface, it may appear that these statements are not significant; however, there is evidence of the impact when we talk to survivors and criminal justice personnel.  

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet with a group who had lost a loved one to murder. Several of the victims talked about how they were warned by the prosecutors and/or judge not to get too emotional while they gave their victim impact statement during the post-conviction/pre-sentencing phase of the trial. Some were warned not to cry. Others had their statements edited by the judge prior to reading it during court. These are cases that have happened after Clark penned words that stated, “We are constrained to conclude, however, that the danger of unfair prejudice was such as to outweigh the probative value of this proof. [The] testimony was not limited to a “brief glimpse” of the victim’s life, but rather laid the debilitating grief of over one hundred people at Defendant’s feet. The risk of inflaming a jury’s passions with such testimony is simply too great to allow its admission.”  

Imagine if you were instructed to describe, in a brief glimpse, the impact your spouse, child, parent, or sibling’s murder had on your life. Realize that you would be doing this during the same phase when the convicted murderer, often without much restriction, would have the opportunity to attempt to minimize their sentencing by presenting whatever they wanted people to know about their childhood and the impact incarceration will have on their loved ones.

Last week, I sat in a meeting where Nashville police officers were reminded that they are not “community caretakers” thanks to Wade’s ruling in a DUI case out of Etowah. Somehow paroling a parking lot of a business in the middle of night after being asked by the business to do so and arresting a drunk man in a car with keys in the ignition isn’t really a part of the community caretaking role. Wade has effectively set up a situation, much like stalking, in that we, as a community, must wait until injury happens to someone else before action can be taken.  How is that just? Why do I or my husband or my children have to be hurt first before a police officer can engage in a situation?

These are just two opinions that limit the rights of victims and decrease our public safety.  Unfortunately, these justices have authored many others dealing with domestic violence, child abuse, robbery, kidnapping, using live pictures of victims during homicide trials and probable cause. They are not supportive of victims, and they are writing opinions that are dangerous to us all.  Vote to replace these justices who have not been a friend to victims, their rights and our safety.

Valerie L. Craig

Mt. Juliet

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