Governor Sonny Perdue today signed into law Sen. John Wiles’ (R-Kennesaw) legislation (SB 151) giving family members of crime victims greater options in how they present their testimony before a jury. Under current law, family members are only allowed to deliver a victim impact statement by reading a written testimonial.
Sen. Wiles championed this issue throughout the 2009 legislative session. At the bill’s signing, he reflected on what the legislation means to victims’ families. “In authoring this bill, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many families of crime victims who have all told me the same thing. They all want the chance to show a jury that their loved one was a real person, not just another name on the nightly news. They want another option to express how the loss of that person has impacted their lives without the intimidation of court proceedings or the accused criminal. This bill will give families that option. Having a choice in presenting their testimony will allow crime victims’ families to make their most impactful statement to a court.”
The bill will allow the family to submit an audio or videotaped testimony, as well as allow family members to present their statement via teleconference or by other electronic means. Under this legislation, a judge retains the right to review the testimony and decide what to permit in court.
Sen. Wiles joined Gov. Perdue for the bill signing at a Victims’ Rights Day Rally in Douglas County, in conjunction with National Crime Victims Rights Week. Supporters of the bill were also present, including Claudia Barnes, widow of murder victim Judge Rowland Barnes, Kellie Wiggins, sister of murder victim Marie Richards, Jessalyn Dorsey, mother of murder victim Terrence Greene, and Wayne and Linda Brown, parents of murder victim Lori Brown. During the event, they were honored with the Victims Voice Award for their efforts in seeking justice for all crime victims.
Several of these advocates delivered heart wrenching testimony as the bill worked its way through the legislative process in the Senate and House to reach final passage. They noted that allowing a statement to be pre-recorded would give family members the chance to humanize the victim for a jury. All too often, a jury only sees the victim through crime scene photos. This bill gives families more options to bring the victim to life and highlight the impact of the crime.