Rights Gained at the Expense of Offenders, the System, or Both

Rights Gained at the Expense of Offenders, the System, or Both

The boldest demands raised by advocacy groups within the victims’ rights movement concern power. Some victims want to influence the outcome of the criminal justice process at key stages from bail hearings to jury selection to sentencing. Instead of being relegated to the role of passive observers,

T A B L E 7.1 Victims’ Rights Gained at the Expense of Suspects, Defendants, and Convicts

Subject Right of Victims

Denial of bail To be protected from suspects whose pretrial release on bail might endanger them

Protection from further harm

To be reasonably protected during the pretrial release period from the accused through orders of protection and by increased penalties for acts of harassment and intimidation

Defenses To be assured that defendants cannot avoid imprisonment by pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, through the substitution of guilty and mentally ill, which requires treatment in a mental institution fol- lowed by incarceration in prison

Privacy To be assured that medical records and statements divulged to counselors remain confidential even if requested by the defense during the discovery phase of court proceedings

Evidence To be assured that defendants cannot benefit from the exclusion of illegally gathered evidence by having all evidence obtained by the police in good faith declared admissible in trials

Offender’s age To be assured that juvenile offenders do not escape full responsibility for serious crimes by having such cases transferred from juvenile court to adult criminal court

Restitution To receive mandatory repayments from convicts who are put on probation or parole unless a judge explains in writing the reasons for not imposing this obligation

Appeals To appeal sentences that seem too lenient

Notoriety for profit To have any royalties and fees paid to notorious criminals confiscated and used to repay victims or to fund victim services

Abuser’s tax To have penalty assessments collected from felons, misdemeanants, and traffic law violators to pay for victim services, compensation, and assistance programs

SOURCES: BJS, 1988; MADD, 1988; NOVA, 1988; NVCAP, 2008.


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they want to be active participants in the events that shape the outcomes of their cases. This point of view leads to the provision that the injured parties should be present and heard whenever suspects, defendants, and convicts are present and heard.

Participatory rights that victims gain may come at the expense of offenders, agency officials, or both, depending on how this leverage actually is applied. Victims can be seen as allies of the govern- ment and as junior partners on the same side as the police and the prosecution in the adversarial system.

Therefore, empowering them means strengthening the coalition of forces seeking to arrest, detain, con- vict, and punish persons accused of wrongdoing. Enhancing the powers of a potentially repressive state apparatus alarms civil libertarians concerned about safeguarding constitutional rights and maintaining checks and balances. But if victims are visualized as independent actors, then they may not agree with the courses of action taken by their ostensible governmental allies. Calls to empower them might provoke resistance

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