KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – Tennessee lawmakers announced Tuesday legislation that would strengthen the rights of crime victims in the state constitution.

In a release, Tennessee Sen. John Stevens of Huntingdon and Tenn. Rep. Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain introduced Senate Joint Resolution 885 and House Joint Resolution 822, known as Marsy’s Law, which aims to ensure that victims of crime have equal, constitutional rights on the same level as those accused and convicted of crimes.

Debbie Locke’s husband, former State Rep. Mike Locke, was killed by a drunk driver near Kingsport in 2014. Since then, she has been advocating for victim’s rights and feels this law would be a step in the right direction.

SEE ALSO: Family of Mike Locke asking state to deny parole for James Hamm Jr.

“Marsy’s Law will be wonderful for victim’s rights. Sometimes we feel like we’ve been forgotten, we’re a very small club that nobody wants to be a member of, but in numbers, hopefully, we can do something for the state of Tennessee and all those other victims to follow,” Debbie Locke told News Channel 11 Tuesday. “My husband, Mike Locke, was killed five and a half years ago by a drunk driver and even though I’ve been an advocate from the very beginning over victim’s rights, you just feel like you’re lost in the shuffle, and this would just really put it in black and white, and hopefully those other victims to follow would, you know, have more of a say in the way they feel like their outcome is.”

The proposed bill presented by Sen. Stevens and Rep. Hazlewood would update the current language to spell out specific rights and protections for victims in the Tennessee Constitution.

Sen. Stevens and Rep. Hazlewood

“More than twenty years ago, 89 percent of Tennesseans voted to give crime victims the rights they deserve by adopting a Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights. But unfortunately, victims find these rights to be unenforceable under current law and the rights of victims are not always protected,” said Sen. Stevens in the release. “Tennesseans have made it clear they want equal rights for crime victims and adopting Marsy’s Law in our state would guarantee they are protected.”

SEE ALSO: After beloved community member killed in DUI crash, family gets justice

When asked why this legislation would be so beneficial to Tennessee victims, Locke said:

“Just, for instance, James Hamm, the guy that killed my husband, was incarcerated from the night that he killed Mike. On that day, he drew two days’ credit in county jail and he was supposed to have served 30 percent of his time before he was ever come up for parole, and he come up for parole in 15 months after his sentencing. After only serving 15 months, he was ready – he was up for parole – and that’s devastating to myself and to my family to go through that every 15 months to 2 years. I think it would’ve been devastating to my case, I think the court system and the criminal justice system would then think that it’s okay with that family, that they have moved on, well I haven’t and I never will. I will be there until the very end.”

Debbie Locke

Adopting Marsy’s Law in Tennessee would provide victims the ability to assert the critical rights to which they are promised, the release detailed, including:

  • The right to be treated with fairness for the victim’s safety, dignity, and privacy
  • The right, upon request, to reasonable and timely notice of, and to be present at, all criminal public proceedings and all juvenile delinquency proceedings involving the accused
  • The right to be heard in any proceeding involving release, plea, sentencing, disposition, and parole, as well as any public proceeding during which a right of the victim is implicated
  • The right to be free from harassment, intimidation, and abuse throughout the criminal justice system, including reasonable protection from the accused or any person acting on behalf of the accused
  • The right, upon request, to reasonable notice of any release or escape of an accused
  • The right to refuse a request by the defendant, the defendant’s attorney, or any other person acting on behalf of the defendant for an interview, deposition, discovery request, or other communication with the victim
  • The right to full and timely restitution from the offender
  • The right to a speedy trial or disposition and a prompt and final conclusion of the case after the conviction or sentence
  • The right, upon request, to confer with the prosecution
  • The right to be fully informed of all rights afforded to crime victims

Joan Berry has spent more than a decade fighting for the rights of crime victims after her daughter, Johnia, was murdered in West Knoxville in 2004. She founded the group “HOPE for Victims” to give a voice to family members who have lost loved ones to crime.

SEE ALSO: Victims rights group calls for tougher sentencing laws

“In the decades since Johnia was stolen from my family, we’ve dedicated our lives to making sure victims have the same rights as the accused. That’s why I’m supporting Marsy’s Law for Tennessee, and that’s why I strongly encourage our lawmakers to pass this important legislation,” Berry said in the release. “We need to do whatever we can to make sure the legal system doesn’t add any more pain to victims and their families.”

District Attorney General Barry Staubus introduced Locke to Berry, “and from four and a half years ago until now we have been working on trying to get legislation passed for victim’s rights, truth and sentencing in the state of Tennessee, which is so very important for the victims and victims’ families that are left behind,” Locke explained.

The press release indicated that Marsy’s Law is named after Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas of California who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983.

Only one week after her death, Marsy’s mother and brother, Henry T. Nicholas, walked into a grocery store where they were confronted by the accused murderer.

“It’s a club that nobody wants to be in, but we are, and we need to advocate for each other and be there for each other, and so this law would just level the playing field and it would give us our say and our rights,” Locke said.

The Nicholas family, who had just come from a visit to Marsy’s grave, was unaware that the accused had been released on bail. In an effort to honor his sister, Dr. Nicholas has made it his mission to give victims and their families constitutional protections and equal rights. He formed Marsy’s Law for All in 2009, providing expertise and resources to victims’ rights organizations nationwide.

“We are all now victims, you know, even though it wasn’t me personally, but my whole family is a victim to what happened to my husband, and so has Joan’s family been the same way, so anything we can do to help the next family, it’s going to be our pleasure and our mission to do that,” Locke told News Channel 11. “It’s just – you don’t know what you’re going to be faced with until you’re in the middle of it. I was never involved in the criminal justice system or the court system until I was just thrown in, and it’s not anywhere that you want to be, and you don’t, as for myself, I didn’t understand all the laws and everything so you learn as you go, and again, if I can help someone, then that’s what I’m here for.”

If this proposed legislation is passed in two consecutive legislative sessions and signed by Gov. Bill Lee, the constitutional amendment guaranteeing these victims protections would be placed on the November 2022 ballot for voters to approve.