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Helping Victims Of Violent Crime

Lawmakers debate a constitutional amendment

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, April 16) -- Attorney General Janet Reno today endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment to expand the rights of the victims of violent crime. (288K WAV)

Reno, who appeared at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, said without a constitutional amendment, "We will never correct the existing imbalance in this country between defendants' irreducible constitutional rights and the current haphazard patchwork of victims' rights." Twenty-nine states have some type of victims' rights language in their constitutions.


The attorney general escaped questions about her refusal to seek a special prosecutor to probe campaign finance irregularities.

By agreement, senators deferred that until an April 30 oversight hearing, when committee chair Sen. Orrin Hatch predicted "a full-scale interrogation about the independent counsel issue." That session was advanced from its original May 20 date.

Some Republicans went along with that grudgingly. "I'm not happy about waiting until April 30," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) (288K WAV)


The proposed crime victims constitutional amendment, introduced by Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), is similar to one that died in the 104th Congress. Some critics say while they support help for crime victims, a constitutional amendment represents the wrong approach.

The amendment would give victims the right to be present at court and parole hearings, to speak during sentencings and get notice about the release or escape of a defendant or prisoner.

"Of all the initiatives that this Congress could undertake, few will touch the heart of Americans as dearly as the measure seeking to ensure that the judicial process is just and fair for the victims of crime," Hatch said.

Leahy, Hatch, Kyl

One supporter who testified at the hearing was Marsha Kight, whose daughter died in the 1995 Oklahoma City federal building bombing.

"I'm not here to take rights away from accused or convicted offenders," Kight said. "Rather I am here to plead for simple fairness by asking you to simply add to the rights that all Americans enjoy."

Along with the amendment, the Clinton Administration is offering additional legislation to expand victims' rights. The package's major points include:

  • An $8 million, automated notification system to let victims know when defendants will appear in court.
  • A guarantee that victims' rights are considered in all court proceedings.
  • A requirement that juvenile court proceedings be open, with victims allowed to attend.
  • Job protection for victims who want to attend court sessions.
  • A $500,000 fund for victims of the Oklahoma City bombing.
  • A requirement that courts consider victims when changes of venue are granted. Many relatives of the Oklahoma City victims were upset when that trial was moved to Denver.
  • More authority for prosecutors to jail defendants who threaten their victims before their trials.

The hearing coincided with the 22nd annual observance of National Crime Victims' Rights Week.

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