Recognizing Victims in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure: Proposed Amendments in Light of the Crime Victims' Rights Act

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Crime victims are virtually absent from the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The sixty federal rules comprehensively cover every aspect of federal criminal proceedings-from initial appearance through preliminary hearing, arraignment, acceptance of pleas, trial, and sentencing. Yet the rules substantively mention victims only once, briefly recognizing the right of some victims to speak at sentencing.1

The federal rules can no longer leave victims unmentioned. In October 2004, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law the Scott Campbell, Stephanie Roper, Wendy Preston, Louarna Gillis, and NiIa Lynn Crime Victims' Rights Act (CVRA).2 The CVRA transforms crime victims into participants in the criminal justice process by (among other things) guaranteeing them notice of court hearings, the right to attend those hearings, and the opportunity to testify at appropriate points in the process. These new victims' rights will reshape the federal criminal justice system and force significant changes to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure to reflect the victim's expanded role. This Article offers comprehensive proposals for changing the federal rules to both implement the CVRA and reflect sound public policy. The CVRA dictates changes like these to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure because only by integrating victims into the federal rules will Congress's goal of making victims participants in the process be fully realized.

This Article is divided into five parts. Following this introduction, Part II reviews the current absence of victims from the federal rules. Surprisingly, even where the rules cover issues of great concern to victims, victims somehow go unmentioned. Part II then discusses the crime victims' rights movement and concludes with a brief sketch of the events leading to the CVRA's enactment.

Part III discusses why it is necessary to amend the federal criminal rules to incorporate victims. Although the CVBA is a federal statute that automatically trumps any conflicting procedural rule, procedural rules drive day-to-day courtroom practices. Given that Congress was particularly concerned about integrating victims into the fabric of the criminal justice system, the Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules should amend the rules to directly reflect the CVRA's requirements.

Part IV provides a rule-by-rule analysis of the changes needed in the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure to implement the CVRA. Of particular importance is new language protecting crime victims' rights to be notified of and to be present and heard at public criminal proceedings. Congress should also implement the right to notice in a new rule mandating that prosecutors keep victims apprised of criminal proceedings. In addition, the rules should also reflect victims' rights to attend court proceedings and to testify at bail, plea, and sentencing hearings. Part IV also discusses other significant changes needed to conform the rules to the CVRA: defining "victim," giving victims notice before confidential information is subpoenaed, allowing victims to be heard before cases are transferred to remote districts, giving victims access to relevant parts of the pre-sentence report, permitting courts to appoint counsel for victims, and protecting the victim's right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay. Part V contains a brief conclusion.

II. THE MISSING VICTIMS OF CRIMES

Crime victims are absent from the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Yet this is not because victims lack vital interests in criminal cases. As the CVRA recognizes, victims have vital concerns throughout the criminal process. This section recounts the absence of victims from the federal criminal rules, then contrasts that absence with the aims of the victims' rights movement. The movement has argued successfully before state legislatures and Congress for the recognition of crime victims' rights-with these efforts culminating in the passage of the CVRA, protecting crime victims' rights in the federal system. …