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Victims’ rights amendment: Good intentions, but bad policy?

Constitutional amendment could violate due process, critics say

Illinois voters are being asked to vote on an amendment that would enshrine crime victims' rights into the state constitution, according to the Daily Herald. The amendment has so far proved popular with politicians and the general public, but experts have pointed out that although the initiative is driven by good intentions, it could have serious consequences for the criminal justice system. Specifically, critics say the amendment is unnecessary and could violate the due process rights of criminal defendants.

Victims' rights amendment

The amendment to the Illinois Constitution would give victims of crime increased rights throughout a criminal defendant's trial, sentencing, bail, and release. For example, the court would have to consider the victim when modifying bail or determining the conditions of early release for a defendant. Victims would also have the right to be informed of developments in the defendant's case and to make statements during plea agreements and sentencing.

Many of the rights contained in the amendment, however, are already provided for by statutes. Critics say that, as a result, the amendment is largely redundant and unnecessary. Victims' rights groups, however, say the amendment will help guarantee that such rights are enforced, which they claim is currently not always the case.

Judicial process compromised

Aside from being unnecessary, however, critics point to far more serious problems with the proposed amendment. According to the Belleville News-Democrat, the amendment has the potential to compromise the judicial process and could end up violating defendants' due process rights.

Critics point out that while the feelings of victims should be respected during the judicial process, such victims should be treated as witnesses and not be allowed to direct or influence moves taken by the court. According to one critic, the amendment threatens to turn the justice system into a place for victims to seek vengeance rather than for justice and fairness to be served.

Protecting rights

Although many people will understandably support the victims' rights amendment, it is important to remember that when it comes to the criminal justice system, allowing emotions to override reason serves nobody. Protecting the rights of the accused during trial may not be a popular ballot initiative, but it does ensure that the constitutional rights of all citizens are upheld.

Anybody who is facing a criminal charge needs to make sure that such rights are protected during this difficult time. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help clients understand what those rights are and how to best go about fighting a charge or unnecessarily harsh sentence.