A New Definition of Justice That Includes the Victim

By Kyl, Jon | Corrections Today, April 1997 | Go to article overview
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A New Definition of Justice That Includes the Victim


Kyl, Jon, Corrections Today


Each year; nearly 40 million Americans are victimized, first by criminals and a second time by a government that affords them no constitutional rights. To ensure that crime victims are treated with fairness, dignity and respect, I have introduced a constitutional amendment to establish and protect the rights of crime Victims.

Those accused of crimes have many constitutionally protected rights. They have the right to due process; the right to confront witnesses; the right to be protected from self-incrimination; the right to a jury trial; the right to a speedy trial; the right to a public trial; the right to counsel; and the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

Yet, the U.S. Constitution, our highest law, has no protection for crime victims. The recognized symbol of justice is a figure holding a balanced set of scales, but in reality the scales are weighted heavily on the side of the accused. As Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe has noted, "The proposed amendment would ensure that the rights of victims are given due respect without sacrificing either the rights of defendants or the needs of law enforcement."

The Victims' Rights Amendment will bring balance to the system by giving crime victims the rights to be informed, present and heard at critical stages throughout their ordeal -- the least the system owes to those it failed to protect.

The amendment gives crime victims the right:

* to be notified of and to be present at the proceedings;

* to be heard at certain crucial stages in the process;

* to be notified of the offender's release or escape;

* to proceedings free from unreasonable delay;

* to an order of restitution;

* to have the safety of the victim considered in determining a release from custody; and

* to be notified of these rights.

The idea stems from a 1982 President's Task Force on Victims of Crime, which concluded that "the criminal justice system has lost its essential balance," and that constitutional protection of victims' rights was the only way to guarantee fair treatment of crime victims. Since then, grass-roots citizens' organizations around the country have pushed for amendments to their state constitutions and succeeded in 29 states. But this patchwork of state constitutional amendments is inadequate. A federal amendment would establish a consistent guarantee of crime victims' rights throughout the country.

First introduced in 1996 during the last Congress, the amendment received significant, bipartisan support.

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