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Making Illinois' Victims' Rights Enforceable

A coalition of victim advocates in Illinois have started a campaign to improve its state's constitutional Victims Rights Amendment by making its victims' rights self-enforcing. Key provisions would provide:
  1. Appellate relief for victims rights denied during trial phase.
  2. Victims' Rights protected no matter the age or condition mentally of the offender.
  3. Eliminate need for statutory language to define application of the rights, making the rights self-enforcing.
  4. Give victims the right to an attorney of their own.

According to advocates, Illinois law does not ensure that victims receive the rights they need and deserve.  The Illinois Constitution and Illinois statutes have provided for some measure of crime victim rights since 1984.  Nonetheless, crime victims routinely find that the rights identified in law are not implemented:

  • Victims are guaranteed the right to be informed of court proceedings --some victims never learn about scheduled hearings or they take time off work or school only to learn at the courthouse after hours of waiting that the hearing was postponed. 
  • Victims have the right to communicate with the prosecution -- some victims wait long periods of time only to find out that charges were never filed in their case but the prosecutor never informed the victim of this decision. 
  • Victims are guaranteed to be present at trials and hearings regarding their case -- some victims are unnecessarily placed on the defense’s (and in rare occasions, the prosecution’s) witness list in order to exclude them from the courtroom and are required to sit outside, missing most of the proceedings about the rape or act of violence that happened to them or their loved ones, without being released in a timely manner.
  • Victims are guaranteed the right to a speedy trial -- some cases take years longer than necessary without the court ever considering the victim’s need for justice due to repeated requests for continuances by the defense.
  • Victims are guaranteed the right to present a statement to the court about the impact that a violent crime has had on them -- some judges refuse to allow the victim to present this statement in open court, thus defeating the impact that a victim’s words might have on the court’s decision-making and the victim’s healing.
  • Victims have the right to have a support person or advocate present at court proceedings -- some courts exclude advocates from the courtroom, particularly in juvenile cases, leaving the victim alone and isolated in an unfamiliar environment. 

When these unfortunate events happen, victims have no recourse.  There is no power or authority that can force a judge or attorney to respect the rights of the victims when those rights matter most.  Without a means of enforcement, these rights are illusory at best and solely dependent on the good will of those in control of the proceedings. 

More infomation, including a copy of the bill, HJRCA 19, is available at:

Marsy's Law -- California's new VRA - Passes

Proposition 9, California's initiative to adopt a comprehensive Bill of Rights for victims -- "Marsy's Law" -- passed  by a 53-47 margin. [Read Amendment]

According to NVCAP's General Counsel Steve Twist, Marsy’s Law will be the most comprehensive Victim’s Bill of Rights in any state in the nation; indeed, in the history of the nation.  The initiative sets the standard for the rights to justice and due process for crime victims and challenges the U.S. Congress to make these rights available to all Americans. For the first time in California, victims will have meaningful and enforceable rights, including the rights:

  • To notice of all proceedings
  • To be present whenever the defendant has the right to be present
  • To be heard at critical stages … before the defendant is released after arrest, before a plea bargain is accepted by the court, before any sentence is imposed, before there is a parole, and any time their rights are at issue.
  • To have their safety considered before any release decisions are made and to know when the offender is being released or has escaped
  • To protect their confidential records
  • To refuse to submit to interrogations by the defendant or his lawyer before trial
  • To confer with the prosecutor
  • To be free from intimidation, harassment, or abuse, and to be treated with fairness and respect
  • To a speedy trial and to reasonable finality.
  • Victims would have an independent right to enforce these rights in any court.
  • It will require that victims be informed of their rights just like the defendants are given their Miranda rights.
  • It will provide the means to stop the regular nightmare of repeated opportunities for clearly dangerous offenders to be re-considered over and over again for parole.
  • It will secure for victims a meaningful opportunity to participate in parole proceedings and will set their safety and the safety of the public as the critical standard before release decisions are made.

Marsy’s law restores to victims an independent voice in a system that for too long has marginalized and silenced them.  Click here to read the entire proposal. [PDF]

Oregon Voters Support Enforcement of Victims' Rights

On May 20, 2008 Oregon voters overwhelming ratified two amendments to its state constitution to enforce the state's victims' rights.  Measures 51 and 52 passed by nearly a 3-to-1 margin. [Read Amendments]

Federal Judiciary Considers Victims' Rights in Criminal Procedures

Leading victim advocates testified on January 26, 2007 on the need to amend the Federal Code of Criminal Procedure to recognize victims' rights and implement the Crime Victims Right Act (CVRA). Read the testimony of:

Justice for All Act/Crime Victims Rights Act

The "Justice for All" Act was signed into law on October 30, 2004. The law includes a modified version of Senate Bill 2329, the statutory alternative to the Federal Crime Victims' Rights Amendment. The Bill passed the Senate by a vote of 96-1.

Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) has announced his support for Senat Joint Resolution 1, the Victims' Rights Amendment.

Sen. Coleman said:

"As a former prosecutor, I know firsthand the importance of protecting the rights of victims. In our nation, the presumption of innocent until proven guilty is strong and vibrant. Yet, within that system, too often the rights of victims are either forgotten, or glossed over. The legislative history of this amendment states, 'This amendment makes some basic pledges to Americans. Victims of violent crime deserve the right to be notified of public proceedings involving the crime.They deserve to be heard at public proceedings regarding the criminal's sentence or potential release. They deserve to have their safety considered. They deserve consideration of their claims of restitution. We must guarantee these rights for all the victims of violent crime in America.' I agree."

"Feinstein, Kyl Ready to Renew Fight for Victims' Rights"

Februrary 11, 2003 - Congressional Quarterly,

VRAs Reintroduced in 108th Congress

January 7, 2003 - Senators Jon Kyl and Dianne Feinstein have reintroduced the Victims' Rights Amendment — Senate Joint Resolution 1 — in the 108th Congress. A similar measure, House Joint Resolution 10, was also introduced by Rep. Ed Royce.

IACP Supports VRA

October 2002 - The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has formally endorsed Senate Joint Resolution 25, the federal Victims' Rights Amendment. The Association's Executive Committee approved the amendment at its October 8, 2002 meeting. In announcing its support, IACP President Joseph Samuels stated,

The IACP strongly supports the adoption of the Victims' Rights Amendment. The time has come to ensure that victims of crime are treated fairly by the criminal justice system.

All too often we have seen that the rights of victims or their survivors are held subordinate to those of defendants in criminal proceedings. This amendment establishes a better balance of those rights and ensures that victims have a right to be heard and a right to be notified of judicial developments related to their case.

Before endorsing the proposed constitutional amendment, the executive committee carefully considered the proposed amendment and its potential impact on law enforcement and the criminal justice system. "It is our belief that the proposed amendment has been carefully crafted in order to protect the rights of victims without impeding the rights of the accused or hindering the ability of law enforcement or prosecutors to effectively apprehend or convict criminals," added Samuels.

California Prosecutors Endorse VRA

July 2002 - The California District Attorneys Association has announced its support to amend the U.S. Constitution to recognize fundamental rights for victims of violent crime. In a July 11, 2002 letter to Senators Feinstein and Kyl, Lawrence Brown, Executive Director of the California District Attorneys Association said,

Senate Joint Resolution 35 and House Joint Resolution 91 protects the rights of victims without impeding the rights of the accused. While balancing meaningful and enforceable rights of a victim with those of the accused, the Amendment preserves the prosecutor's executive function in the administration of justice.

We are pleased to join the many organizations and individuals who ave pledged support for this very important and monumental legislation.

A copy of the Association's letter in pdf format can be seen here. [PDF]

Senate Hearings on S.J. Res. 35

July 17, 2002 - The Senate Judiciary's Constitution subcomittee's hearing on the proposed federal Victims Rights Amendment featured Office of Victims of Crime (OVC) Director John Gillis. Mr. Gillis, who is a survivor of a homicide victim and former police officer, presented the Bush Administration's strong endorsement of S. J. Res. 35. He stated:

A federal constitutional amendment is the only legal measure strong enough to rectify the current imbalance and inconsistencies among crime victims’ rights laws and can establish a uniform national floor for crime victims’ rights. A federal amendment to the United States Constitution will be the vehicle by which compliance with crime victims’ rights laws can be enforced. The passage of a federal constitutional amendment will provide the means to make crime victims’ rights a reality.

The July 17, 2002 hearing also included testimony by NVCAP Co-Chair Roberta Roper and General Counsel Steve Twist.

Rep. Steve Chabot conducts public hearing on VRA

May 9, 2002 - Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) held a public hearing on H. J. Res. 91, the House version of the revised Victims Rights' Amendment. Rep. Chabot and 16 co-sponsors introduced this measure on May 2, 2002. Appearing at the hearing in support of the amendment was NVCAN Co-Chair Roberta Roper [read testimony], General Counsel Steve Twist and Board Member David Voth [read testimony]. Many victims of crime and advocate who support the amendment attended the proceedings.

NVCAN General Counsel Steve Twist, who was instrumental in drafted the current version of the amendment, provided lengthy written testimony, detailing the history of the VRA and an analysis of its provisions. His testimony is available here [HTML][PDF][Word].

A companion measure, S. J. Res. 35, was previously introduced in the Senate by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and 25 other co-sponsors.

Rep. Steve Chabot introduces H.J.Res 91

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) and 16 cosponsors introduced House Joint Resolution 91 which is the companion measure to S.J. Res. 35, to amend the U.S. Constitution to recognize the rights of victims of violent crime.

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