Sheriff Michael Chitwood: Amendment 6 brings balance to the justice system

When you enter law enforcement, you take an oath to support and maintain the U.S. Constitution, the laws of the United States and the laws of your state. While that entails a great many things, it means that I and my deputies must ensure that everyone who is accused or convicted of a crime is afforded the 20 distinct rights in the U.S. Constitution to which they are entitled. These are important protections that ensure fairness and impartiality in the pursuit of justice.

However, I also swore to serve and protect all the residents of my county, including those who were victimized. Right now, the rights and protections we can offer Floridians who become victims are, unfortunately, limited.

Currently, there are no clear, enforceable rights and protections for victims outlined in either the U.S. or Florida constitutions. Imagine telling the father of a child killed in a drunk-driving accident that he will have less standing in court than the person accused of driving under the influence and causing the accident? Imagine a rape victim discovering personal information about her and her family is available to the accused rapist, leaving her and her family members vulnerable to harassment or worse?

Sadly, these are scenarios that play out every day in communities across our state. Floridians have the opportunity to change this.

In November, Florida voters can decide if there should be distinct rights and protections for victims in our state constitution through a proposed constitutional amendment known as Marsy’s Law for Florida (Amendment 6 on your ballot).

Amendment 6/Marsy’s Law for Florida would provide crime victims with rights that are equal to — not more than — the rights already provided to the accused and convicted. Victims just want access to the same kinds of information and opportunities provided to the defendants.

Amendment 6/Marsy’s Law would provide some basic, commonsense rights, such as the right to be notified about any court proceedings related to their case, the right to speak at plea and sentencing hearings, the right to privacy, and the right to know if their perpetrator is about to be released from prison.

These are people who were thrown into an often scary, confusing and traumatizing criminal-justice system through no fault of their own. Once they get there, they just want to be heard and to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

As a second-generation law-enforcement officer, who has dedicated the past 30 years of my life to protecting the innocent and pursuing the guilty, I can tell you we have a system that needs more balance. Amendment 6/Marsy’s Law for Florida will bring that balance to our court system and improve the overall delivery of justice for everyone.

I strongly support and endorse Marsy’s Law for Florida, and I encourage Volusia residents to do the same by casting a “yes” vote for Amendment 6 this fall.

— Michael J. Chitwood is the Volusia County sheriff.

Read more in the West Volusia Beacon.