House Judiciary Committee Hearing on Federal Victims' Rights Amendment
The House Judiciary Committtee's Subcommittee on the Constituion held a public hearing on House Joint Resolution 106, a federal Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendment introduced by Rep. Trent Franks and Jim Costa. The hearing was conducted on April 26, 2012. Testifying in support of the amendment was Prof. Paul Cassell and Brooks Douglass.
Federal Victims' Rights Amendment IntroducedOn March 26, 2012, thirty years after the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime first proposed a federal constitutional victims' rights amendment, Reps. Trent Franks [R-AZ02] and Jim Costa [D-CA20] introduced a bi-partisan amendment to the U.S. Constitution to recognize crime victims' rights.
- Here is the text of House Joint Resolution 106:
SECTION 1. The rights of crime victims to fairness, respect, and dignity, being capable of protection without denying the constitutional rights of the accused, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State. The crime victim shall, moreover, have the rights to reasonable notice of, and shall not be excluded from, public proceedings relating to the offense, to be heard at any release, plea, sentencing, or other such proceeding involving any right established by this article, to proceedings free from unreasonable delay, to reasonable notice of the release or escape of the accused, to due consideration for the crime victim's safety, and to restitution. The crime victim or the crime victim's lawful representative has standing to fully assert and enforce these rights in any court. Nothing in this article provides grounds for a new trial or any claim for damages and no person accused of the conduct described in section 2 of this article may obtain any form of relief.
SECTION 2. For purposes of this article, a crime victim includes any person against whom the criminal office is committed or who is directly harmed by the commission of an act, which, if committed by a competent adult, would constitute a crime.
SECTION 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it has been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within 14 years after the date of its submission to the States by the Congress. This article shall take effect on the 180th day after the date of its ratification.
View or download a copy of the resolution here as introduced.
An analysis with references, resources and authority for the draft language can be viewed here [PDF].
According to the sponsors, after conducting hearings in ten cities and receiving testimony from hundreds of citizens and public officials, the President's Task Force found that the criminal justice system has "lost an essential balance....The victims of crime have been transformed into a group oppressively burdened by a system designed to protect them. This oppression must be redressed."
Since the Task Force's recommendations, the Federal and state governments have enacted tens of thousands of statutes seeking to recognize and implement reasonable rights for crime victims. This experience has demonstrated that crime victims' rights can be secured without infringing whatsoever on the constitutional rights of those accused of crime or impeding the functioning of the criminal justice system. Despite those well-intentioned efforts, however, statutes are insufficient for the same profound reason cited by the Task Force in 1982: they are not part of the fundamental law of the land, the U.S. Constitution. Only inclusion in the U.S. Constitution can ensure full, meaningful and consistent rights for all citizens throughout our nation. Only a constitutional amendment will begin to change the culture that treats crime victims with less than the fairness, dignity and respect to which they are entitled.
Victims' advocates have worked hard since the passage in 2004 of the Crime Victims' Rights Act to give the statute meaning and power to change the culture of the American justice system. The experience is clearly mixed. There are cases in which the rights have been denied or ignored. There are cases in which the rights were initially denied and then recognized only after extensive litigation. And there are cases in which the rights have been respected. Several conclusions are now clear:
- Only a federal constitutional amendment can establish meaningful and enforceable rights for every crime victim in the country.
- Statutes do not have the same power to change the culture that the U.S. Constitution will have.
- When the rights are enforced the system does not break down; indeed it becomes more just.
NVCAP invites its partners from our earlier campaigns, the large community of victims' advocates, and every citizen to join us once again as we move forward together in the cause of victim justice. How fitting it would be, during this 30th anniversary of the President's Task Force, to finally heed its call for justice.