NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Should We Pass A Victims' Rights Amendment To The U.S. Constitution?

July 20, 1999

A study by the National Institute of Justice found that "large numbers of victims are being denied their legal rights." Even though 32 states have enshrined certain rights for victims of crime in their constitutions, such rights have often failed in the face of bureaucracy or defendants' rights, legal experts report.

Given this situation, momentum is reportedly building for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would clarify and guarantee the legal position of crime victims.

  • It would give victims of violent crime the right to be notified of court hearings, to attend those hearings and to speak on such issues as bail, plea bargaining and sentencing.
  • The amendment would require judges to consider the victim's safety before granting bail.
  • Victims would also be entitled to a speedy trial, notification of an offender's release or escape, and restitution from a convicted offender.

Experts say that when the Constitution was drafted, victims could actively pursue criminal cases and act as their own private prospectors. That changed over time, so that until the victims' rights movement began winning victories a decade ago, they could do little more than serve as witnesses.

Opponents contend the Constitution is concerned with the nation's basic political structure and that victims' rights do not belong in it. Others argue that victims' rights should be left to the states.

The proposal, however, is reported to have wide support across almost the entire political spectrum.

Source: Paul G. Cassell (National Victims' Constitutional Amendment Network), "Make Amends to Crime Victims," Wall Street Journal, July 20, 1999.

 

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