STATEMENT OF DAVID L. VOTH
DIRECTOR, CRIME VICTIM SERVICES, ALLEN & PUTNAM COUNTIES, OHIO
BOARD MEMBER, NATIONAL VICTIMS CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT NETWORK
BEFORE THE CONSTITUTION SUBCOMMITTEE
COMMITTEE OF THE JUDICIARY
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
MAY 9, 2002
IN SUPPORT OF H. J. RES. 91, THE CRIME VICTIMS’ RIGHTS AMENDMENT
TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, I am pleased to testify about my passionate desire to see H.J.R. 91 enacted as the 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution. I have been Director for 17 years of a non-profit crime victim assistance program serving all types of victims with a Restorative Justice philosophy, and I helped draft Ohio’s Victims Rights Law and Constitutional Amendment. I am convinced that only a federal Victim Rights Amendment will cause essential victim rights to be meaningful, permanent, consistent, and accessible.
Victims rights must be meaningful.
When people say they believe victims should have rights, but they don’t need to be listed in the U.S. Constitution, I ask, “Which victim right is not important enough to protect?”
Which victims rights should a government official have the power to grant or withhold when you are raped? Should a government official be allowed to deny change of plea schedule information to a grieving mother of a murdered child seeking justice for the most traumatic and evil event in her life? Should the government be allowed to disregard the safety of a domestic violence or stalking victim when making release decisions, or to disregard the impact of months and years of delays on a sexually assaulted child? Should a permanently disabled drunk driving victim have a right to be heard no matter who the prosecutor is or in which state the crime happened? Should restitution for victims be requested by prosecutors and ordered by judges? For victims rights to be meaningful they must be articulated in our Constitution.
Victims rights must be permanent.
Our founding fathers presumed rights for victims. They were able to hire a constable and prosecutor to seek justice, but now victims are at the mercy of the government which exclusively operates this process. Victims should not control or veto investigations, arrests, or the court sentence. Neither should victims be ignored. The middle ground between victim control and ignoring the concerns of victims is the point of this amendment. Many victims tell me, “I felt treated like the criminal!,” and I respond, “I know what you mean, but I wish you were treated as well as the criminal.” The void of victim protections has been periodically considered and changed by court rules, legislation, and state constitutional amendments. The only enduring solution for victims rights is to delineate them in our national charter.
Victims rights must be consistent.
The ragged patchwork of victim rights provisions is not fair or respectful to citizens who call police and are willing to testify in order to hold law breakers accountable. Even federal victim rights laws only apply to victims in federal crimes, leaving out 98% of America’s crime victims. An average of 50% of victims say they would not report the same crime again because of how poorly they were treated. Americans deserve a core of consistent rights, upon which the states may add.
I think Judge Randall Basinger, a respected judge in Putnam County (Ohio) Common Pleas Court, and instructor of Constitutional Law at Bluffton College, spoke for all judges when he noted that a Victim Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would result in more uniform victims rights in courts across the nation and more systemic balancing with similar defendants rights.
Prosecutors and judges should not differ so widely in implementing similar victims rights. Courts should not ignore victims rights just because they fear violating defendants rights. Courts allow the Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial to be routinely abused as a ploy to exclude victims by simply handing them a subpoena as a potential witness. Defendants have a right to a “public” trial, not a private one, and a right to “confront” witnesses, not to exclude them. Only with a floor of rights in the Victims Rights Amendment will courts be able to consistently balance defendants interest in avoiding a speedy trial with the victims “interest in avoiding unreasonable delay.”
Victims rights should be accessible.
The Amendment provides legal standing to be heard, now lacking in the patchwork of rights and remedies across this nation. Without the right of victims to ask for enforcement of their rights, the Amendment is a beautiful rescue buoy thrown just out of reach of the victim. Citizens should not have to turn over to the government all their interests in such personal and pivotal proceedings without some “due process” for their concerns.
In conclusion, the right of victims to have a voice in the justice process is an American justice value which was assumed by our Constitutional authors, but is now twisted in a practice of pre-emptive defendant rights over disjointed victim rights. Victims should have Constitutional status for their essential rights to be meaningful, permanent, consistent, and accessible.