Rights Gained at the Expense of Offenders

Rights Gained at the Expense of Offenders

Some advocates argue that victims’ rights ought to be gained at the expense of offenders’ rights. Too much concern has been shown for the rights of criminals, they say, and not enough for the plights of the innocent people they harm. In the unend- ing battle between lawbreakers and law-abiding citizens, the “bad guys” have gained certain advantages within the legal system over the “good guys.” To restore some semblance of evenhanded- ness to the scales of justice that have been tipped or tilted in favor of the wrong side, victims need rights that can match, counter, or even trump the rights of offenders. In this context, reform means reversing certain court decisions and legal trends and shifting the balance of power away from wrongdoers and toward the parties they injured (see Hook, 1972; Carrington, 1975; and Presi- dent’s Task Force, 1982).

Collisions between the rights of victims versus those of suspects, defendants, convicts, probationers, parolees, and prisoners can arise over many issues.

Those who emphasize punishing offenders on behalf of the individuals they harmed assume that the interests of victims and government officials largely coincide: apprehension, prosecution, conviction, and imprisonment. Victims’ rights gained at the expense of offenders’ rights would include provisions that facilitate conviction of the accused without unreasonable delays, close legal loopholes that enable the defendants to escape their just deserts, increase the likelihood of incarceration, and eliminate unwarranted acts of leniency toward these prisoners, such as early release from confinement. The President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime (1982) proposed many

recommendations of this nature, and some were enacted in California in 1982. Other gains that victims might secure at the expense of convicts would be the right to preview and perhaps object to the terms of a proposed plea agreement, and to the recommendations in a presentence report (Cassell and Joffee, 2011).

Some provisions that have been characterized as pro-victim reforms and fit within this punitive and retribution framework are listed in Table 7.1.

Critics of this approach of enhancing victims’ rights at the expense of suspects, defendants, con- victs, inmates, probationers, and parolees raise a number of objections. First, making convicts suffer more does not mean that the people they hurt suf- fer less. Second, many of these measures do not really empower victims but simply strengthen the government’s ability to control its citizens. Civil libertarians who fear the development of a repres- sive police state warn that the implementation of antidefendant, pro-police, and pro-prosecutor mea- sures undermines cherished principles: the pre- sumption of innocence and the state’s burden of proof. These due process safeguards are subverted when defendants are denied pretrial release, when improperly obtained evidence is used against them, and when the victims’ desires for revenge are manipulated by the government to enhance its punitive powers (see Henderson, 1985; Fattah, 1986; Hellerstein, 1989; Hall, 1991; Abramovsky, 1992; Simonson, 1994; and Dubber, 2002).

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