HONOLULU >> Karlotta Carvalho said she was a student at the University of Hawaii when she was awakened by a large shadow hovering over her bed in the middle of the night.
At first, she thought it was a dream. But then, the shadowy man was trying to cover mouth and choke her on the neck until she broke free.
"I lived in fear wondering when and if he would be released, and if he would seek revenge or harm to me," Carvalho said.
Then one day she was at the local market when she found herself face-to-face with the attacker, who had been released from prison. "Horrified, I stood frozen, unable to speak," Carvalho said. "My worst nightmare had been realized."
Carvalho is among a group of crime victims pushing Hawaii lawmakers to begin the process of changing the state constitution to spell out the rights of crime victims. In a packed hearing room at the Capitol on Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Labor heard the proposal and postponed making a decision on the bill until Wednesday. If approved by the Legislature and governor, the proposal would then go to the voters.
Victims of crimes currently have rights under state law. But advocates say the rights need to be spelled out in the constitution so judges will take those rights more seriously.
They want it spelled out that victims have the right to a speedy trial and to timely notifications about court proceedings and major developments. Someone would have to tell the victims about their rights to financial assistance and services available for them.
One provision they seek would have helped Carvalho by requiring that victims are notified when their attackers are released or escape from prison. Victims also would have to be given notice of any plea agreement and given a reasonable opportunity to provide input to the prosecuting attorney before prisoners are released.
They are also seeking more respect for their dignity and privacy as they navigate the criminal justice process.
Nonohe Botelho, whose son was murdered in 2011, said she was told she couldn’t touch her son’s body after he was murdered because his body had become evidence. "To this day, I’m haunted by the fact that I could not hold my son or kiss his face," Botelho said.
The state attorney general’s office opposed the bill, saying it could cause issues in criminal justice proceedings, especially for prosecutors negotiating deals on the fly. Also, if a victim was notified of a hearing, but then wasn’t present, the court will have to decide whether or not to proceed, said Lance Goto, deputy attorney general.
"It may result in further delays. It may result in more appellate issues because of the courts have to go through this balancing," Goto said.
Sen. Will Espero, who introduced the bill, asked Goto whether he was saying the constitutional rights would be a burden to the justice system.
"Isn’t that what the court’s supposed to do? " Espero asked. "Isn’t their job to go through a balancing of rights for the defendant and the victim?"
Goto responded that no, as it stands, the victims do not have constitutional rights elevated to the same level as the defendants.
Cynthia Hora, assistant attorney general for Illinois, said her state also had concerns about implementation before Illinois recently changed its constitution to include victims’ rights. But when Hora was as a prosecutor in Alaska, where victims’ rights were added to the constitution, victims received better treatment, she said in an interview.
"It’s very limited participation. It’s not like you become a third party," Hora said. "You can confer with the attorney about the plea agreement. But you can’t say ‘No, let’s go to trial.’ "