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A Roadmap for State Law Reform For Unsolved Cold Cases: A Five Step Legislative Advocacy Guide

This comprehensive resource empowers you to pursue legislative remedies that provide justice for victims and their families. By providing valuable information, practical guidance, and essential tools, this legislative advocacy toolkit aims to equip you with the necessary tools and strategies to make a tangible impact.

Unsolved cold cases present a pressing issue within our justice system, impacting countless victims’ families and communities nationwide. The prevalence of these cases underscores the urgent need for legislative reforms and targeted advocacy initiatives to address this ongoing problem. According to available data, 250,000 homicide cases remain unsolved in the United States, perpetuating a state of uncertainty and injustice.

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The impact of unsolved cold cases goes beyond the immediate victims. Families are left to endure the emotional toll of unresolved grief and the lingering questions surrounding their loved one’s cases. Communities also suffer as the lack of resolution undermines public trust in the justice system and can create a climate of fear and insecurity.

You can make a difference by advocating for legislative reforms prioritizing resolutions and justice. This toolkit equips you with the necessary tools to navigate the legislative landscape, engage stakeholders, and make a compelling case for change. Your dedication and advocacy can make a difference.

 

1. Research Current Relevant Legislation and Regulations and identify Key Stakeholders

  • You need to understand the impact and limitations of current laws around cold cases in your State.
  • Find relevant data, case studies, and research.
  • You must identify key stakeholders within your community.

Resources

  • Legal research databases. Online platforms like Westlaw, LexisNexis, or Fastcase offer legal research databases containing state statutes, regulations, and other resources relevant to your research needs.
  • Research which government agencies could support or assist in your efforts.
  • Visit official state legislative websites for information about your legislators and committees. Many state legislatures maintain online directories as a helpful resource. Make a list of people to contact
  • The Ballotpedia: The Ballotpedia is an independent encyclopedia online that contains information on elected officials, legislative bodies, and their roles both federally and at a state level.
  • Open States: Open States provides information on state legislatures across the U.S., including contact details, committee assignments, and voting records.
  • Explore non-profit directories in your state to identify organizations working on similar issues, like Charity Navigator and the National Council of Non-profits Directory.
  • Identify think tanks, local community groups, and non-profit organizations that align with your cause. They may have research reports or policy documents that offer invaluable insight.  Consider attending their local events and meetings so you can build relationships there.
    • Non-Exhaustive List of Organizations to Consider:
      • National Organization for Victim Assistance: NOVA is a non-profit organization that advocates for crime victims while offering resources, training, and assistance to professionals working with crime victims. 
      • Project Cold Case is an organization comprised of professionals that have assisted victims’ families whose murder remains unsolved, providing guidance and resources that may assist with advocacy processes such as legal experts, private detectives, counseling services, or any other professional that could potentially aid you.
      • National Center for Victims of Crime: NCVC is an advocacy group dedicated to supporting, providing resources, and lobbying on policy changes that benefit victims of crimes. Their primary mission includes advocating victims’ rights while offering assistance programs and creating systemic changes within our justice systems.
      • Parents of Murdered Children (POMC), an international non-profit, provides resources, support, and advocacy services for families impacted by murder. POMC works towards upholding victims’ and their loved ones’ rights while advocating on their behalf.
      • Survivors of Homicide: Survivors of Homicide is an advocacy and support organization for families who have experienced the death of someone they care about through homicide, providing information, support groups, resources, and assistance for survivors while upholding justice on their behalf. Their goal is to raise awareness while offering survivors assistance while striving to bring about change that brings greater protection in the future.
      • National Crime Victim Law Institute: NCVLI, as a legal advocacy group, strives to safeguard and advance victims’ rights within the legal system. Their education services, resources, and litigation support provide advocates and attorneys who support victims.

 

2. Develop specific goals and document changes to the state laws you seek

  • Set goals that are both measurable and reachable.
  • Clarify what outcomes you would like.

Resources

  • Gather success stories and case studies: Gaining inspiration from the experiences of other states or jurisdictions that have implemented similar changes is an excellent way to set realistic advocacy campaign goals and set your own. For example, the state of Georgia has implemented a homicide victims family rights act. The first in the country!
  • The questions below will help you identify any desired changes that need to be implemented into state law:
    • What specific laws or policies are you trying to change or reform?
    • What laws and policies impede or negatively affect individuals or communities, or how do they impede progress?
    • What tangible results do you hope to realize with your legislative reform efforts?
    • How will you determine whether your goals have been accomplished?
    • These goals are realistic and within your timeframe of achievement.
    • What positive changes could result from legislative reform?
    • What benefits would these changes provide to individuals, communities, or society?
    • How can you effectively demonstrate the outcome you seek? Give concrete examples or scenarios.

With thoughtful responses, you will be able to set goals for your legislative initiative and measure its progress more closely – keeping on course and advocating effectively for the changes you seek.

 

3. Build Relationships With Legislators

  • Once you have your list of senators from Step 1, you need to Introduce yourself and explain the cause to legislators.
  •  Request a meeting to review proposed changes.
  • Bring stories, data, and other evidence into play to support your argument.
  • Get an example proposal for New York State below in the resource section.

Resources 

  • Legislative Websites: Visit official legislative websites for contact details for state legislators, such as email addresses, telephone numbers, and office locations. Many legislators also maintain dedicated profiles with additional details on their interests and priorities.
  • Sample of the NYS Proposal for a Homicide Victims Family Rights Act– Free Download here.
  • Reach out to the legislators’ staff whom you would like to meet up with; their assistants may assist with scheduling meetings and offering insight into their priorities.

 

4. Craft Messages to Engage Audiences 

  • Develop tailored messages that appeal to various target audiences.
  • Use personal stories, facts, and images to bolster your cause.
  • Benefits and relevance should be highlighted when proposing changes.
  • Craft a compelling and clear message to promote unsolved cases. Here are examples of persuasive texts you could use when advocating unresolved cases.
    • Justice denied is justice delayed; each day without closure for families of victims in unsolved cases prolongs their suffering and must not be forgotten – instead, we must seek answers and hold those responsible accountable. Justice for victims, family members, and community safety is at stake.

    • Unsolved murder and missing cases are more than mere statistics: they represent real people with families still awaiting word from law enforcement about their cases. Time passes quickly, often forgetting these cases altogether – yet by advocating on their behalf, we honor victims’ memories while sending a powerful message about justice being served.

  • Collect personal stories and testimonies: Reach out to homicide victims’ families and ask them for stories and testimonies about their experiences. They are the ones most directly impacted by your issue; Such narratives will make an impressive case for their significance to your cause.

 

5. Engage the public to raise awareness about your efforts. 

  • Hold town hall meetings or webinars.
  • Create a press release or start to pitch to the media for interviews about your efforts. Get “A Media Pitch Guide for Unsolved Homicide Cases: A Digital Advocacy Guide for Homicide Victims’ Families”  here.
  • Use social media to raise to encourage participation and involvement by members of the public.
  • Arm supporters with templates and tools they need to contact legislators directly.
  • Encourage petitions, phone calls, and letter-writing campaigns as effective strategies.

Resources:

  • Leverage social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram to increase awareness, disseminate information and engage the public. Use hashtags or dedicated pages on these social platforms to reach a broader audience. My new Amazon Kindle e-book will help you a lot with how to do this and how to write email pitches to reporters. Check it out here.
  • Change.org can be an excellent way of showing public support for lobbying legislators on an issue by showing how many people care deeply about it. An appealing petition can be an effective means of reaching your audience and sharing its content. Include facts from your story as part of its text – and remember a call to action at its conclusion! Sample Petition.
  • Organize or attend community events – they offer an invaluable way to reach out and gain support, not to mention being an opportunity for you to get more engaged.
  • Online petition platforms: When collecting signatures, online petition platforms such as Change.org and Care2 can be helpful tools.

 

Examples of Laws That Have Been Enacted Due to Legislative Advocacy Efforts:

Homicide Victims Family Rights Act of 2021– This Federal Bill aims to protect and uphold the rights of families of homicide victims. The bill recognizes the unique needs and challenges faced by these families. It ensures they can access information, support, and a voice throughout the criminal justice process. The act includes provisions that grant families the right to be notified about significant developments in the investigation and prosecution of the homicide case. It also allows them to be present during key proceedings and to provide input on decisions that may impact the case. Additionally, the bill emphasizes the importance of providing comprehensive support services to families, including access to counseling, victim advocacy, and resources to address the emotional, financial, and practical aftermath of losing a loved one to homicide. By enacting the Homicide Victims Family Rights Act of 2021, legislators aim to ensure that families of homicide victims are treated with dignity, respect, and empathy and that their rights and needs are recognized and protected throughout the criminal justice process.

The Baker- Coleman Act in Georgia– The Homicide Victims Family Rights Act In Georgia addresses the need for new case reviews of unsolved homicides in the State of Georgia by enacting an Independent Review Board. 

The Homicide Victims Rights Act of Illinois (HB1210) -This bill supports families of homicide victims in unresolved cases. The act enables the review of case files for first and second-degree murders that occurred over three years ago, where all leads have been exhausted, and no likely suspect has been identified. To initiate the review, an immediate family member can submit a written application. The review will be conducted by individuals who have not previously investigated the murder in question. The bill ensures that only one case review can be undertaken at a time for the same murder victim. Each law enforcement agency will develop a standardized application for persons seeking a case file review. If the review concludes that a full reinvestigation could generate new leads, the relevant agency will conduct the reinvestigation. Additionally, the bill mandates the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority to collect and publish specific information and statistics concerning cold case murders. To accommodate these changes, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Act will be amended accordingly.

Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act– This bill allows the Department of Justice to investigate unresolved civil rights offenses before 1970. Many states have passed laws to extend or eliminate statutes of limitation for certain offenses. 

Amber Alert System – Named for Amber Hagerman – an eight-year-old who was abducted and murdered in 1996 – the Amber Alert System broadcasts information regarding missing children to local organizations and concerned individuals across the U.S. It has helped recover several abducted kids through its creation by grassroots organizations and concerned individuals and remains popular today. This bill addresses crimes related to solicitation and conspiracy to commit murder resulting in death. The law aims to strengthen the legal framework and penalties for individuals involved in planning or soliciting murder, particularly in cases that lead to the death of the intended victim.

Stacy’s Law: Named for Stacy Lynn Seaton, a 17-year-old girl murdered in 2005 in a murder-for-hire plot. This law focuses on enhancing the consequences for those who conspire or solicit others to commit murder and ensures that justice is served in such cases. The law gives the legal system more tools to hold individuals accountable for their involvement in these heinous crimes, ultimately striving to deter potential perpetrators in Maryland.

Marsy’s Law – Marsy’s Law is a set of constitutional amendments designed to offer specific protections for victims of crime. This grassroots campaign honored Marsalee Nicholas, who was murdered by an ex-partner. As part of Marsy’s Law, victims are made aware of their legal rights, such as receiving updates about court proceedings and participating in criminal justice systems.

Campus Safety Act: Suzanne Lyall  was an undergraduate college student attending the State University of New York Campus (SUNY) when she went missing in 1998. Following this incident and other concerns over campus security in 2000, New York State passed “Suzanne’s Law.” Officially known as Suzanne’s Law: Campus Safety Act”, its purpose was to improve safety measures on college campuses in New York State. Under New York law, all public and private colleges must create comprehensive safety plans following state requirements. These plans often incorporate measures such as improving lighting, emergency response protocols, security personnel, and educational programs about personal safety. New York State implemented Suzanne’s Law to bring attention to campus security concerns while encouraging proactive measures that protect students and bolster campus security.

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy Act and Campus Crime Statistics Act is a federal law mandating that universities and colleges in the U.S. submit data regarding crimes occurring near or on their campus – commonly referred to as Clery Act after Jeanne Clery, who was victimized in her dorm room in 1986; her parents worked tirelessly on passing this legislation to increase campus safety and transparency. This act bears Jeanne’s name because this legislation seeks to honor her memory while improving campus security and transparency.

Sherry Black Law– named for Sherry Black- a bookstore owner murdered in South Salt Lake in 2010. This bill allows genetic test users to allow police access to their data; additionally, it protects users by prohibiting arrests based solely on data found within genetic testing databases.

I hope you find this information helpful. Please share this on your social media accounts!

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