Victims’ Rights

The victims’ movement began in the United States in early 1980s as a result of the growing feeling among survivors of crimes that the American justice system had intentionally sidelined them from the criminal proceedings. The movement was able to organize its members and advocate for their cause which actually bore fruits when they gained recognition from the prosecutors (Mosteller, 1998). Victims’ Assistance offices were later established by the District Attorney’s offices and prosecutors took control of representing the voices of the survivors.

Today the victims’ rights movement has made tremendous strides and had seen five states amend their constitutions to incorporate the Victims’ Rights by 2004. However, the push is still on to have the victims’ rights entrenched in the American Constitution. But what impact would such amendment have on the criminal justice system? And what does it potent for the future? To answer these questions, I will look at the situation in the five states that have had the Victims’ Rights in their constitutions since 2004.

The Victims’ Rights Amendment seeks to have the survivors of crime accorded right to information, criminal proceeding and restitution (Mosteller, 1998). The five states that include Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Washington and Idaho have all incorporated these rights in their individual constitutions. However, in two states – Washington and Oregon, the constitutional amendment has extended the power to have the states’ prosecutors identify the survivors and therefore who is to be informed, participate, as well as seek reparation in a criminal proceeding.

Unknown to many victims, the discretion on who should be informed, participate and seek reparation lies with the prosecutors and therefore a prosecutor would only seek those victims they consider would help them convict a criminal (Bird, 2004). It should not therefore come as a surprise that the National District Attorneys’ Association has fully pledged support for the entrenchment of the VRA in the American Constitution. This amendment would fully empower the prosecutors and not the victims and only the victims with strong evidences would be selected (Doyle, 2004).

Apart from the situation in the two mentioned states, all the seven states have something in common. Despite the amendments, the services extended to the victims and survivors are nothing compared to the resources the states spend on the prosecution and incarceration. It is the inadequacy of the current criminal justice system that has led to the push for Victims’ Rights Amendment. Services and resources needed for counseling, medical care, information and any other assistance that enable the victims recover has never been adequate (Bird, 2004).

The current system which is much concerned with punishment has been offering services to the victims only during prosecution and conviction of offenders, but after this process, the victims have been on their own (Doyle, 2004). Despite the need to have changes in the current system, the Victims’ Rights Amendment does not offer any of the much need services to the survivors if the current situation in the five states is anything to go by. VRA is simply not the solution to the victims’ problems.

The VRA would offer a window of opportunity for fraudsters to exploit the provisions in the amendments (Bird, 2004). For example, in the case of domestic violence, a batterer may falsely claim that the victim had cause damage to him or her which led to arrest of the innocent. Under the provisions of the VRA, the batterer will have full information about the victim; dictate when he or she should be released and even receive services which he or she does not deserve. These concerns will also apply in cases where a victim of crime or violence only fought back in self-defense.

Depending who reports first, the victim may find himself or herself locked up for years under false claims made by the offender. Conclusion As provided in the United States constitution under the rights of defendants and suspects, the many concerns of victims and society as a whole are well taken into consideration, albeit with some inadequacies. All the rights of defendants including the due process provide relatively enough safety for both defendants and their victims.

However, there is need to improve the services and resources geared towards healing of the survivors. This would call for changing policies that would ensure adequate provision of services that involve the rights of both survivors and defendants.

References

Bird, A. (2004 October, 31). Why the Victims’ Rights Amendment Goes Against Common Sense. Retrieved on August 8, 2010, from; http://www. safetyandjustice. org/node/147 Doyle, C. (2004 April, 16). Victims’ Rights Amendment: A Proposal to Amend the United StatesConstitution in the 108th Congress. CRS Report for Congress. Retrieved on August 8, 2010, from; http://royce. house. gov/UploadedFiles/RL31750. pdf Mosteller, R. P. (1998). Victims’ Rights and the Constitution: Moving from Guaranteeing Participatory Rights to Benefiting the Prosecution. ST. Mary’s Law Journal, Vol. 29:1053, p. 1053-1065Retrieved on August 8, 2010, from; http://scholarship. law. duke. edu/cgi/viewcontent. cgi? article=2222&context=faculty_scholarship