Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Victims of Crime Have Rights, Too

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Victims of Crime Have Rights, Too

Article excerpt

Although the crime rate theoretically dropped in 1994, the statistics are anything but reassuring: In 1994, more than 23,300 Americans were murdered, more than 1 million were the victims of aggravated assaults and nearly 103,000 were brutalized through forcible rape.

Unfortunately, when the perpetrators of these terrible crimes are finally caught and arrested, their victims are all too often marginalized by the criminal justice system. Crime victims, for example, are often forced to sit outside the courtroom during trials because they are witnesses in the case. They are generally unable to give information to the judge about setting bail or determining a sentence. They are often kept in the dark, never being informed about the schedule of court hearing s or the entry of plea bargains.

And once the trial starts, the focus is not on the crime victim, but the rights and needs of the criminal defendant.

All across America, thousands of citizens are expressing their concern by joining grass-roots organizations dedicated to achieving a single goal: ensuring that the criminal justice system respects the rights of crime victims.

Many of these organizations have fought for a "victims' rights"

amendment to their state constitutions. In 1992, the voters in Kansas overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution guaranteeing victims of crimes "certain basic rights, including the right to be informed of and present at public hearings . . . of the criminal justice process and to be heard at sentencing or at any other time deemed appropriate by the court."

Eighteen other states have adopted similar constitutional amendments.

State constitutional amendments are a good start, and the advocates of these measures have my full support. But our criminal justice system will continue to treat the victims of crime as second-class citizens until we adopt a number of key reforms at the federal level.

One important reform involves the federal habeas corpus statute. Under current law, defendants who have committed the most terrible acts of violence and who have been sentenced to death are able to bring a seemingly endless number of appeals challenging their sentences. All too often these appeals are little more than exercises in delay. Much of this delay is generated by federal judges, who review death sentences after they have already been carefully examined by state courts and who permit defendants to bring repetitive appeals raising issues that have already been decided. …

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