Victim's Rights Law

The Washington Post today opines on the defeat of the Victim's Rights Amendment to the Constitution, and the (in our view) unwise provision contained in the Senate's new Victim's Rights legislation that would allow victims to go to federal appeals courts to enforce their rights under the law:

A constitutional amendment on this subject was never necessary -- unless, that is, the goal was to diminish protections for the accused in criminal trials. Congress can provide for victims anything that doesn't infringe upon defendants' trial rights, using its normal legislative powers. The new bill would guarantee them the right in federal cases to notice of public proceedings, to be protected from the accused, to attend proceedings, to confer with prosecutors, to receive restitution from the perpetrator and to be otherwise treated "with fairness and with respect for the victim's dignity and privacy." Such protections are actually not new; current law is, broadly speaking, similar. What is new is that the law would have an enforcement mechanism: It would allow victims to go to federal appeals courts to force trial judges who ignore their rights to respect them.

This is a potentially troubling provision; it will probably -- particularly at first -- spawn a great deal of litigation as victims seek to intervene in pending criminal cases, prosecutors seek to preserve their own latitude to try cases in ways that best serve the government's interests, and defendants seek to ensure that their constitutional rights are not compromised. Granting victims standing in court whenever they feel their "dignity and privacy" have been disregarded could prove troublesome for prosecutors.

But at least the Senate, by writing these rules into a statute instead of into the Constitution, has preserved the critical principle that the rights of defendants -- whose liberty the state is seeking to take away -- must trump whatever accommodations the government offers to victims, in the event that the two cannot be reconciled. The statutory route lets Congress tinker further if the balance proves imperfect, and it largely avoids compromising the fairness of trials.

< Pizza? Not Tonight | Government May Begin Monitoring Weblogs >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort: