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Crime victim rights package passes Michigan Legislature

Interior of the state Capitol's rotunda.
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Interior of the state Capitol's rotunda.

Legislation to support crime victims made it out of the Michigan Senate Thursday.

The package would give crime victims the right to testify remotely and have their faces blurred during court streams.

Representative Graham Filler (R-St. Johns) says the bills date back to 2020 when many court proceedings went virtual, even for serious crimes.

“Victims don’t want to show up in person, they’re already scared of the perpetrator but also COVID is running rampant. And so we said, okay, this is going to be our ability to help victims but also hit reset on the modern courtroom,” Filler said.

The four-bill package had bipartisan sponsorship and support.

Despite the bills’ intentions to provide more privacy for survivors and overall support, the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention & Treatment Board submitted written testimony against the facial blur provisions.

The board reasoned blurring survivors’ faces alone wasn’t enough to fully protect them.

“The best policy and practice to maximize victim safety and protect privacy would be to not livestream at all nor make testimony of victims available for later public viewing outside the courtroom,” the group wrote in a May 15 letter to the House Criminal Justice Committee.

Aside from victim privacy, another part of the package adds to the list of crimes considered a “serious misdemeanor” under Michigan law.

A fourth bill provides allows law enforcement or prosecutors to provide certain contact information for survivors of domestic or sexual violence with service agencies.

“It can be hard to come forward. And it can be also really hard to go seek services. But we have service agencies who are well trained and experts in the field who know how to appropriately reach out to victims and offer their services in a compassionate, caring, competent way,” Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), who chairs the Senate Civil Rights, Judiciary, and Public Safety Committee, said Thursday.

The contact sharing bill passed the Senate by a 34-4 vote.

Ahead of voting, Senator Lana Theis (R-Brighton) offered an amendment to the bill that would have required a victim’s consent to share that contact information. It was rejected.

Speaking from the Senate floor, Theis expressed her disappointment.

“I am beyond offended that this body believes that a woman who has been sexually assaulted, that her information should be released without her permission,” Theis said.

But Chang emphasized the service agencies who would work with law enforcement are trained to reach out in a respectful way. She added this is already occurring in many parts of the state.

The package had been introduced in the last legislative session but stalled in the state Senate.

Now that they’ve received Senate approval this time around, the bills are cleared for the governor’s desk.

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