Maryland voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment fortifying the rights of Maryland crime victims last night.
But they rejected a measure giving state judges more time on the bench before retirement. A third amendment -- reconfiguring the districts from which Maryland Court of Appeals judges are selected -- passed by a large margin.
Ninety-two percent of Maryland voters favored the victims' rights amendment -- Question 1 on the ballot -- according to complete statewide returns.
The amendment says that victims should be treated with "respect and dignity," and that when practicable they have the right to be notified of, to attend and to "be heard" in Circuit Court proceedings.
State law already gives crime victims similar rights, but victim advocates say judges and prosecutors sometimes ignore them, and that the laws carry no enforcement powers. Including the rights in the constitution, they add, will make the criminal justice system take victims more seriously.
The victory means the end of a long campaign by Roberta Roper. The Prince George's County resident founded a committee to lobby for such rights in memory of her daughter, Stephanie, who was raped and murdered in 1982.
"It looks wonderful," Mrs. Roper said last night. "There's real satisfaction in knowing there will be something lasting for all Marylanders for generations to come."
Opponents said the amendment would unnecessarily duplicate rights already found in state law. Some also worried it would create a caste system in which justice is meted out according to how many family members and friends showed up to support a victim in court.
Passage of the amendment brings to at least 15 the number of states with constitutional language on victims' rights. Several other states also had similar measures on their ballots yesterday. National victim advocates consider the amendments groundwork for making victims' rights part of the U.S. Constitution.
In other statewide voting, the measure to raise the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75 pitted some of the state's most powerful judges against those who favor making way for the appointment of more blacks and women to the bench.
Voting showed the impact of a last-minute push by judges and lawyers concerned that extending the retirement age would stifle diversity in Maryland's judiciary. Fifty-two percent of voters opposed the measure.
In the third statewide referendum, voters approved a proposal to make Montgomery County a separate district from which nominees for the Court of Appeals are chosen. The measure won 68 percent of the vote.
The realignment means that only one of the seven appellate judges will be chosen from Baltimore, instead of two under the present system. The change does not affect the terms of judges now on the court.