Georgia’s criminal justice system is one of the most complex in America with local, state and federal government entities involved in the process across 159 counties and jurisdictions. This bill would require that each of these entities and county court systems enter criminal justice data into the Georgia Criminal Information Center (GCIC) expeditiously and comprehensively.
Think of the implications of having complete and current information in a central database for every judge, police officer, employer or landlord to access. No longer would a judge or law enforcement officer set an offender free because they did not have a complete background or criminal history.
Or, on the flip side, a person would not be turned away from potential employment or housing due to inaccurate, out-of-date or incomplete court records.
With recent tragic events occurring in Georgia and across the country, think of the lives that could be saved if gun retailers had accurate criminal histories available before making a sale that could potentially turn deadly.
How would the CRRA help victims? With all the state’s criminal data centralized, we would be able to create an automated victim notification (AVN) system that would deliver accurate and timely information to victims.
Presently, most victim notifications are sent by someone in each county’s court system — leaving a wide margin for human error. With court cases currently backlogged due to COVID-19, think of how an overworked clerk could easily and understandably miss sending an important notification of a prisoner’s release or a court proceeding change, both of which could impact the victim related to that case.
Not everyone’s case will be as high-profile as Ahmaud Arbery’s. In the latest proceeding, Arbery’s mother Wanda Cooper Jones and family were able to deliver statements to the state courts recommending sentences for life in prison, and to the federal judges, resulting in the rejection of the defendants’ plea bargain.
In most cases, court dates change at the last-minute, leaving victims scrambling to make it on time or end up missing it altogether and denying their right to make similar statements as the Arbery family.
With an AVN in place, victims throughout Georgia would be able to receive proper and timely notifications no matter what jurisdiction they reside in and where their case is being presided over.
I would also like to thank and am also grateful to Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan for his efforts in working with Marsy’s Law for Georgia to draft the CRRA bill and for the bipartisan support from all 56 state senators, the Georgia General Assembly and Gov. Kemp. This law is a crucial step toward the progress of reforming and modernizing the Georgia criminal justice system.
Our victims and their families suffer enough and deserve to be heard — they deserve justice.
Melvin Hewitt is a partner at law firm Isenberg & Hewitt, P.C., a Marsy’s Law Advisory Board member and a criminal rights advocate.