Victim rights advocates, prosecutors and law enforcement officials from across Tennessee gathered recently on the steps of the Capitol to celebrate Gov. Bill Haslam’s signing of the Victim Life Photo Bill into law.
The legislation, passed with sweeping support during the recently completed legislative session, culminates a years-long effort by victim rights advocates, prosecutors, and the law enforcement community to allow murder victims in Tennessee to have an appropriate presence during the trial of their accused killer.
“The Victim Life Photo Bill will right a wrong that many Tennesseans have long been aware of,” said Verna Wyatt, co-founder and executive director of Tennessee Voices for Victims, a victim rights group that helped organize grassroots support for this and previous versions of the bill. “Because of this new law, murder victims in Tennessee will be able to have their faces shown in court as they looked before they were killed.”
“For decades, it was common practice for prosecutors to introduce into evidence a reasonable photo of the victim prior to her murder in addition to crime scene photos,” said District Attorney General Jared Effler, of the Eighth Judicial District. “However, due to high-court rulings, trial judges began to disallow the practice for fear of having a verdict overturned.”
The bill’s passage and becoming law strengthens Tennessee’s Victim’s Bill of Rights, a constitutional amendment that guarantees victims the right to be present at all proceedings where the defendant has the right to be present. The amendment was overwhelmingly approved by Tennessee residents in 1998 by a count of 680,000 to 85,000.
“We appreciate the power of a single photograph, and it’s appropriate that we celebrated today’s victory with a photo on the Capitol steps,” said Joan Berry, president of HOPE for Victims, another victim rights group that coordinated support for the bill. “We’ve been working for so long to allow photos of murder victims to be shown in court. We’ve accomplished that. We’ve made sure that those who cannot speak for themselves are guaranteed the basic right to face their accused killers.”