The Victims' Rights Amendment is sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein of California and Jon Kyl of Arizona. The Senators introduced their proposal on January 7, 2003. It will provide under civil law eight specific rights (Feinstein 2006). The Victims' Right Amendment, or VRA, is a proposed constitutional amendment, currently being considered in Congress, that would enumerate various rights for crime victims. To become law, the proposed amendment would need two thirds vote in Congress and has to be ratified by two thirds of all of the states (ACLU). The basic rights are:
A crime victim is defined as person who is directly and proximately harmed as a result of a criminal offense. If the victim is a minor of less than 18 years, incompetent, incapacitated, deceased, the legal guardians or representatives of that person's estate, family members or persons appointed by the court may assert the victim's right. The person accused may not be a guardian or representative (Feinstein 2006).
Other unique provisions of the proposed amendment are that if there are a large number of victims, "The court must fashion a procedure to provide for the rights of the victims, when the number of victims makes it impracticable to accord all them the rights outlined in the legislation" (Feinstein 2006). The Attorney General within one year of passage must establish regulations to enforce victim's rights and compliance (Feinstein 2006).
The Modern Crime Victims' Rights Movement began 30 years ago after the 1973 United States Supreme Court decision in Linda R.S. v. Richard D., 410 U.S. 614 (1972). The Supreme Court ruled on the issue if an unmarried woman could seek to the prosecutor's office from discriminately applying a statute regarding the non payment of child support. This was by refusing to prosecute fathers of children to unmarried women. The Court's holding stated that Linda R.S. "could not demonstrate a nexus between the prosecutor’s alleged discriminatory enforcement of the child support statute and the woman’s failure to secure child support payments, and as such, the victim did not have standing to seek the relief she requested," in specification the Court stated, "a private citizen lacks a judicially cognizable interest in the prosecution or non prosecution of another" (History). However in further consideration the court provided an outline for a remedy, that Congress could "enact statutes creating legal rights, the invasion of which creates standing, even though no injury would exist without the statute" (History).
On April 3, 1982, 22 year old Stephanie Roper accidentally veered off a dark rural road an evening in Washington, DC. Two men stopped. Stephanie was abducted and taken to an abandoned farmhouse in Maryland. Stephanie was tortured and raped. The two men killed Stephanie, dismembering and burning her body (Kyl 2011).
Stephanie's parents, Vince and Roberta were notified of the initial proceedings. However they were not notified of subsequent continuances. The defendant's defense counsel argued that the parents would be emotional, irrelevant, and would argue for probable cause for reversal if the parents were permitted to appear. The court agreed and Vince and Roberta were not permitted to speak at trial (Kyl 2011).
In congressional testimony in 2002, Roberta Roper stated how that court ruling affected her family: "Like countless other families then and now, we struggled not only with the devastating effects of the crimes committed against our loved ones, but the consequences … of being shut out of the criminal justice system we depended on and trusted" (Kyl 2011).
At the federal level Congress passed in the Victim and Witness Protection Act in 1982, the first of several pieces of crime victims' rights legislation. This was an impetus giving greater legislative recognition to the rights of crime victims. Since this time 33 states have amended their constitutions to create Victims Rights. Other states have passed crime victims' rights legislation that complements a constitutional amendment.
The victims' rights movement has increased it's presence in the last decade on the basis that if criminals are permitted to speak at trial than victims or their lawful representatives should also. Recently on September 6, 2011 Senator Kyl made reference to the Crime Victims Rights Act (CVRA), which was passed five years ago. The CVRA is the most comprehensive legislation ever passed to protect the rights of crime victims. "It established the rights to be reasonably protected and to be notified, present, and heard at critical stages of the legal process... Most significantly, the new law provides victims with legal standing to enforce these rights, including access to federal appeals courts (Kyl 2011). The CVRA also created crime victims' rights clinics nationwide that are dedicated to changing the legal culture with respect to victims' rights. This culture is concerned with providing direct representation to individual victims in criminal court and proceedings. Here the momentum and organization towards a Victim's Rights Amendment is growing (Kyl 2011).
In conclusion, in Payne v. Tennessee, the United States Supreme Court recognized that crime victims are not nameless or faceless in criminal justice system. In his concurring opinion, Justice Scalia stated, "a public sense of justice keen enough that it has found voice in a nationwide victims' rights movement" (History). What he referred to is the substance of the right enumerated in the introduction. These form the basis of the Victims Rights Amendment.
"For too long, our court system has tilted in favor of accused criminals and has proven appallingly indifferent to the suffering of crime victims" (Kyl 2011).
ACLU (2003). ACLU Fact Sheet on the Proposed Victims' Rights Amendment. United States Senate.
Feinstein, D. (2006) United States Senate. Retrieved September 6, 2011: http://feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2006/1/7929eaa0-7e9c-9af9-70eb-20c8589c71e4-post
Feinstein, D.; and Kyl, J. (2011). Crime Victims’ Rights Anniversary. United States Senate. Retrieved September 6, 2011: http://kyl.senate.gov/record.cfm?id=319590
History of Victims’ Rights. National Crime Victim Law Institute. Retrieved September 10, 2011: http://law.lclark.edu/centers/national_crime_victim_law_institute/about_ncvli/history_of_victims_rights/