MADD Urges More Support for DUI Victim Rights

Capital BuildingThis week is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. While one might think that victims have sufficient rights in the US, the truth is that victims still have fewer rights than criminal offenders. The rights of the criminal offenders are protected by the U.S. Constitution. The rights of victims are not. Granted, victim rights laws today are better than they were. In the past, victims were typically denied access to basic information about their offenders’ court cases and even excluded from the judicial process altogether. They did not have to be notified of court proceedings or of the arrest or release of a defendant, they had no right to attend the trial or other proceedings, and they had no right to make a statement to the court at sentencing or at other hearings. In 1981, a group of advocates created the first National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. This was to call attention to the victims and their surviving family members. President Reagan created a President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime to assess the situation. They reported a system that was focused on the offender and indifferent to the victim. As a result, in 1984, the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) legislation was passed. This was to providing funding for support of victims and to help change the criminal justice system. The report also prompted each state to add victim’s rights language to its constitution. However, currently the US Constitution contains no Victims’ Rights language, whereas there are 23 fundamental rights for someone accused of a crime. Numerous organizations including the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) and Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) support such an amendment. A Victims’ Rights Amendment (VRA) was put forward in April of 2013. This amendment delineates rights such as notification of, guaranteed admission to, and the right to speak during the course of legal proceedings including pre-trial release, plea bargains, sentencing and parole. VRA also requires that courts consider victims’ safety when defendants are considered for conditional release. The VRA has raised many concerns. Advocates point to the need to bolster victims’ rights as current statutes are often not enforced. Opponents state that the amendment does not uphold the fundamental ideal of innocence until proven guilty and due process. Time will tell how legislators will craft this amendment and whether it will make it on the ballot in November.

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