Empowering the victims

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 24, 2004

Each year in the United States there are more than 5 million victims of crime. And outside of some counseling, they have few rights, particularly when compared to the perpetrators of those crimes.

Finally, the United States Senate has acted to do something meaningful to provide rights to crime victims.

The Senate voted 96-1 Thursday on the bill that will guarantee victims the right to plead for tougher criminal sentences, and parole boards wouldn’t be able to stop victims’ families from arguing against the release of murderers.

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&uot;While criminal defendants have an array of rights under law, crime victims have few meaningful rights,&uot; said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who, along with Sen. Jon Kyl, (R-Ariz.), has been pushing for victims’ rights legislation since 1996.

&uot;This legislation will ensure that victims of crime in America are included in the criminal justice process.&uot;

Under the Senate legislation, federal crime victims would be guaranteed notification of significant events that determine what happens to the accused, including parole proceedings and plea bargains. They would also have the right to be heard at those public events, whether it involves a release, plea, sentencing, reprieve, or pardon.

Since the bill was introduced only Wednesday – during National Crime Victims Week – the Associated Press reported that House members said they had not yet had a chance to see the final version. But &uot;I think the prospects are pretty good to get it through the House this year, and certainly the president, having supported the constitutional amendment, will be glad to sign the bill,&uot; Kyl said.

While the bill applies only to victims of federal crime, it is nonetheless a reasonable and long overdue measure that will give comfort to victims.