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Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendment: A Bad Idea Whose Time Should Not Come

NCJ Number
Wayne Law Review Volume: 34 Issue: 1 Dated: (Fall 1987) Pages: 87-94
J M Dolliver
Date Published
8 pages
A victims' rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution has historical, functional, and legal deficiencies; there are reasonable alternative approaches to meeting crime victims' needs.
By constitutionally emphasizing the conflict between the victim and the accused and placing the victim in the role of quasi-prosecutor or co-counsel, the victims' rights amendment would be a dangerous return to the private blood feud mentality. Functionally, a victims' rights amendment mandating victim participation in criminal justice processing could have negative psychological and economic effects on the victim. Such an amendment would be legally deficient because the Bill of Rights was designed to protect personal liberties from governmental infringement, not to protect private individuals from each other. No personal liberty of a victim is infringed upon by the government at any time during the criminal prosecution. There are workable alternatives to a constitutional amendment that can meet crime victims' needs. Mechanisms for action include Federal and State legislation, actions by criminal justice system agencies and personnel, and efforts by community agencies and the private sector. Model legislation proposed by the U.S. Justice Department addresses privileged victim-counselor communications, victim impact statements, open parole hearings, hearsay in preliminary hearings, victim and witness address confidentiality, statutes of limitation for offenses against children, bail reform, sentencing reform, and competency of child witnesses. Federal law encompasses the provision of victim compensation funds. 31 footnotes.