fwd on victims rights

Virginia Sellner (wch@vcn.com)
Mon, 27 Apr 1998 13:28:12 -0600 (MDT)

                                  Discussion Forum

                                  On April 1st, I stood in
                                  the Capitol Building in
                                  Washington, D.C. with
                                  Ms. Marsha Kight of
                                  Oklahoma City. She was
                                  telling reporters her
                                  story about dealing with
                                  what they call the
                                  American "justice
       system." Marsha, you see, had lost a daughter in the
       Oklahoma City bombing. You would think that the
       justice system would recognize the pain that she had
       gone through, and that there would be some way to
       keep the trial process less painful. Marsha, like other
       families of victims, looked forward to seeing the killer
       brought to justice. To bear witness, during the trial, for a
       daughter who could not be there. She also looked
       forward to making a "victim's impact statement" at the
       trial - to having her chance to stand up and say: This is
       who my daughter was. This is what was taken from me.
       This is what was taken from the world.

       But the judge in the trial forced her -- and all the other
       victim families -- to make a terrible choice. Either she
       could watch the trial proceedings, or she could make a
       victim's impact statement later in the trial. She couldn't
       do both.

       The judge felt it would be unfair to the defendant who
       killed 168 men, women and children in cold blood.
       Congress tried to pass an emergency measure that
       would let the bombing victims participate in all aspects
       of the trial -- but the judge said it would violate the U.S.

       This highly publicized move pointed out a serious flaw
       in our Constitution - a flaw that I'm all too familiar with
       from my years of fighting for victims' rights. When they
       charge you with a crime in the US, there are countless
       laws and procedures to protect you. But if you are the
       victim of a crime, you're on your own.


       When the founding fathers drafted the Constitution,
       they were careful to spell out the many rights of the
       accused. That only makes sense -- they were trying to
       free themselves from an oppressive, tyrannical state.
       In fact, there are 15 separate rights and protections in
       the Constitution for people accused of crimes. 

       But there isn't a single right to protect the victims of
       those crimes. I'm sure the authors of the Constitution
       never envisioned a time when there would be nine
       million victims of violent crime each year in their great
       nation. When the Constitution was drafted in 1789,
       there weren't even nine million people in the entire

       Because of this oversight, the inequities between the
       rights of the accused and the rights of the victim are
       astounding. Criminals have the right to a speedy trial,
       but there are countless examples when victims aren't
       even notified that hearings are taking place. Criminals
       have protection against excessive fines, but victims
       have no right to restitution from convicted offenders.
       Criminals have the right to confront their accusers in
       court, but victims are often barred from certain portions
       of the trial. And when a prisoner is released or
       escapes, the victims are rarely notified, putting them in
       harm's way. With these disparities, the criminal justice
       system that is supposed to protect us can become an
       injustice system. I've personally witnessed too many
       cases where the victim of a crime is victimized all over
       again by this critical imbalance. The Constitution needs
       to protect all of us, and right now, it's only doing half the

       Twenty-nine states have already amended their
       constitutions to protect the rights of violent crime
       victims. But that's not enough. Nearly half the country
       is unprotected, and there are few guarantees for
       victims in federal cases. That's why we need a National
       Crime Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendment.

       The proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution
       asks for a few simple rights for victims of violent crime: 

       The right to be notified of all proceedings.
       The right to attend the trial and other proceedings.
       The right to be heard at important stages of the criminal
       The right to be notified of the release or escape of the
       The right to an order of restitution from the convicted
       The right to have one's safety considered in
       determining an offender's release.
       The right to be notified of these rights.
       As you can see, this does nothing to weaken the
       powerful system that is already in place to protect the
       accused. This just levels the playing field so that you
       and I are represented equally and fairly in the process. 

       The proposed amendment before Congress right now
       has support from both Republicans and Democrats. It
       has 41 members of Congress signed on as cosponsor
       of the bill. President Clinton has already endorsed it.
       But there's still a congressional fight ahead, and in
       order to ensure passage, each one of us must make
       sure our voice is heard. 

       You don't even have to leave your seat. JUST LOOK
       UP YOUR REPRESENTATIVES and send them an
       email letting them know how you feel.

       Please take the time to support this amendment. Fight
       for it now, so it can fight for you and your loved ones in
       the future.

       To learn more about how you can help, visit the
       National Victims' Constitutional Amendment Network. 

 Speak only words of truth.
 Speak only of the good qualities of others.
 Be a confidant and carry no tales.
 Dhyani Ywahoo,"Voices of our Ancestors, Cherokee teachings from the Wisdom

Wyoming Coalition for the Homeless
P. O. Box 1232
Cheyenne, WY 82003