Supporters urge Congress to approve victims’ rights amendment
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Viciously assaulted by her husband, Jacquelynn Davis said she dropped the charges to keep the family together, never once thinking the decision would come back to haunt her.
Though she objected, prosecutors dropped charges after a subsequent attack. They didn’t take her seriously because she had declined to prosecute in the past, Ms. Davis told the House Judiciary Committee.
She wasn’t told about Texas’ crime victims bill of rights. She wasn’t allowed to speak at trial or formally object to the dismissal of the charges and a later plea bargain. She also was shut out of all court proceedings.
``I have completely lost faith in the criminal justice system because I was betrayed and raped by the very system that should protect me,″ the 37-year-old Dallas mother of two said Wednesday.
She spoke in support of a proposed constitutional amendment that would institute a series of rights for crime victims. Proponents say they would have helped Ms. Davis had they been in force at the time of her assaults.
``Without it, victims will continually be at the mercy of the courts and violent criminals will continue to walk free,″ Ms. Davis said.
Attorney General Janet Reno also testified in support of the proposal, saying it would ``bring balance to the criminal justice system.″
But other witnesses criticized it as unworkable.
Proponents note that the Constitution includes at least 15 specific rights for defendants but none for crime victims _ an omission they contend allows the system to disregard victims and their pain.
But U.S. District Judge George Kazen of Laredo, Texas, expressed numerous concerns, including about the types of crimes the proposal would cover, the definition of a victim and remedies for violating the proposed rights.
The proposal would apply to victims of violent crimes or to offenses for which a defendant faces more than a year in prison. ``It seems to me that if you combine those two things, we’re talking about every crime on the books,″ said Kazen, who testified on behalf of the federal courts.
He urged that the proposal be limited to violent crimes and the term ``victim″ be narrowed to exclude those who claim emotional harm.
Under the amendment, victims would be told of court proceedings and allowed to attend, permitted to make statements about a release, plea bargain or sentence and be notified of the offender’s escape or release.
It also would grant victims the right to restitution and require that their safety be considered before their assailants’ release.
It is sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., in the House and Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., in the Senate.
Some 29 states have added victims’ rights amendments to their constitutions, but advocates of a federal amendment _ applicable to state and federal court proceedings _ say state protections aren’t uniform and often are superseded by the defendant rights in the U.S. Constitution.
Reno urged the inclusion of a provision stating that a defendant’s right to a fair trial must not be impaired by any victims’ right. And she said the success of the notification system would depend on adequate funding.
But Hyde, the judiciary committee’s chairman, defended his proposal.
``Justice involves a victim,″ he said. ``We need some place for people like Ms. Davis to turn when the system fails.″