A History of Victims Rights
The concept of rights is as fundamental to modern humanity as our own skin. Documents that define various rights of individuals date back thousands of years, including landmarks such as the Code of Hammurabi and the Magna Carta. Victims Rights were among the very first Civil Rights to ever be historically articulated, and were prominent in the earliest written documents of human civilization.
At the time of the writing of the United States Constitution, oppressive governments had often falsely accused people of crimes they did not commit, simply to exercise power over them. As a result, our Constitution is filled with well-defined rights and protections for those accused of crime. The rights of crime victims simply were not an issue of that time. In fact, early in our nation’s history, victims were the ones that actually prosecuted their own cases – they had the “standing” before courts that today they are often denied.
The most expansive and significant document ever written defining the rights of human beings is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights . The UDHR was created after World War II, the most horrific and violent period in human history creating millions of innocent victims, by an international panel led by Eleanor Roosevelt. Recognition of the rights of crime victims pervades this document.
In the 1960′s and 1970′s, parallel with the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Rights Movement in the United States, a modern victims rights movement was born. The Victims Rights movement arose in recognition of the fact that crime victims were another group of people often ignored, left out, or marginalized by the powers that be. Most crime victims are the poor and disengranchised. The American criminal justice system had always been very focused on protecting the rights of the accused. Powerful defense attorneys working to protect the rights of the accused and offenders often treated crime victims as adversaries and have at times deliberately worked to exclude them. And overwhelmed systems in the criminal justice community could not attend to all of them as violence and crime grew.
Phase One of the modern victims rights movement was simply to earn a recognition that victims had rights, and that those rights were not being protected. Phase Two of the movement took place largey in the 1980′s and 90′s where Victims Rights legislation and Constitutional Amendments were passed in all 50 states, embodying these rights throughout the American legal system. In 2004 at the Federal level, after years of debating a possible amendment to the US Constitution protecting and defining the rights of crime victims, a federal statute was passed instead. This law has been a tremendous step forward for rights of crime victims at the federal level. See www.victimlaw.org for more. Now 33 states have Constitutional protections for the rights of crime victims, and all 50 states have extensive statutes.
Modern Victims Rights and Marsy’s Law
We are now in historical Phase Three: making these rights real through enforcement. Much as equal voting rights for minorities were granted after the Civil War but not made real until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950′s and 60′s, so crime victims rights now exist on paper but often cannot be or are not being enforced. Enforcement of the rights is becoming one of the rights. Like all of the rights of the defendant, these rights must have a remedy. These rights must be real and meaningful because they can be enforced. They must give victims standing before the court. These rights are becoming known now as Marsy Rights, named for Marsy Nicholas, a California murder victim. She was the inspiration for the most comprehensive victims rights legislation in the nation passed in 2008 in California, Prop 9. Marsy Rights are a nationwide movement that will hopefully culminate one day in passage of a U.S.Constitutional Amendment protecting the rights of crime victims.
Marsy’s Law for Illinois
The Illinois Constitution was amended in the early 1990′s to grant constitutional protections to the rights of crime victims. They are listed on the right sidebar of this website. While at the time, the amendment was a giant step forward, some of the wording was unfortunately written in that it denies any real enforcement mechanism for victims, rendering the rights somewhat meaningless in actual application.
A national movement towards enforceable victims rights in more than a decade old in our country. Several states have already passed such language, and the federal government has a most comprehensive and enforceable statute protecting federal crime victims that was put in law in 2004. Illinois’ Coalition for Enforceable Victims Rights was formed in 2008 and has the support of those who work with victims throughout the state. Our language to amend the Constitution in Illinois HJRCA 29 to make victims rights enforceable can be read here. A fact sheet on the need for the Constitutional Amendment can be downloaded here.
Another issue for victims rights is offender sentencing. You can download here a legal brief prepared for CVUI/IllinoisVictims.org by the National Crime Victims Law Institute about our rights in sentencing and legislation.
Constitutional Amendment to Expand and Enforce Crime Victims’ Rights
Download CVUI Board member Maria Ramirez’ testimony on HJRCA 29 before the Illinois General Assembly
Lead Sponsor Representative Lou Lang (D-16)
From the Press Release Spring 2012:
Representative Lou Lang, who introduced Marsy’s Law for Illinois, also known as HJRCA 29, stated, “Today, crime victims are one step closer to having the common sense legal rights they deserve. Victims should feel safe in their own community and be informed about cases involving their attackers. I am pleased that my House colleagues agree.”
Other states, including California, Arizona and Oregon recently passed similar constitutional amendments making victims’ rights enforceable. The California amendment, the original Marsy’s Law amendment, was passed in 2008 and requires law enforcement agencies to read victims their “Marsy Rights” just as the accused are read their “Miranda Rights.” In 2004, Congress passed the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, providing victims of federal crimes extensive rights and means of redress if those rights are violated. Illinois is behind nationally in ensuring crime victims’ rights are enforceable.
“Innocent victims of crime deserve every possible protection,” said Attorney General Lisa Madigan. “This amendment will guarantee that victims have not just a voice in the criminal justice system, but enforceable rights.”
Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, Director of Marsy’s Law for Illinois, said “We applaud the Illinois House members for standing up for victims of crimes and their families. The aftermath of a violent crime is an extremely traumatic experience, especially when victims fear for their safety around their own neighborhood. This amendment would ensure that victims and their families are informed about legal proceedings and the whereabouts of criminal offenders and we are grateful that House members support those rights.”
We invite you to join us as we work to pass Marsy’s Law, an amendment to the Illinois Constitution. Illinois is the ONLY state in the nation that gives victims’ rights, and then actually bars the enforcement of them. We must amend the Illinois Constitution!
This Resolution Makes Crime Victims’ Rights a Reality
This resolution will amend the Illinois Constitution to create an enforcement mechanism for the rights that crime victims have had under Illinois law for over 25 years.
Crime Victims Need Enforceable Rights
Crime victims are central to the criminal justice process. These are the people who have been battered, raped, abused and whose family members have been murdered. Often, however, victims are ignored or even excluded throughout the criminal justice process. Victims in Illinois need comprehensive, meaningful and enforceable rights.
Current Crime Victims’ Rights Are Not Enforced
Despite the fact that the Illinois Constitution and Illinois statutes guarantee crime victims certain rights, these rights are often not enforced. For example:
- Victims are guaranteed the right to be informed of court proceedings. Some victims never learn about hearings and others unnecessarily miss school or work only to learn that the hearing was postponed.
- Victims are guaranteed the right to be present at trials and hearings regarding their case. Some victims are placed on witness lists, thus excluding them from the court proceedings about the rape or act of violence that happened to them.
- Victims are guaranteed the right to present a written statement to the court about the impact a violent crime has had on them. Some victims have been denied the right to present a statement.
How Victims Will Enforce Their Rights
This resolution gives crime victims the right to go to court and ask that the right they were denied be enforced. The resolution also requires the court to act promptly on such a request. For example, if a hearing happened without the victim being notified, the court could notify the victim and order that the hearing be held again.
The Federal Government and Other States Have Statutory and Constitutional Enforcement Provisions
Other states, including California, Arizona and Oregon recently have passed similar constitutional amendments making victims’ rights enforceable. Many states already have enforcement language in their victims’ rights statutes. Illinois is behind nationally on this key movement to make crime victims’ rights enforceable. In 2004, the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act was adopted, providing victims of federal crimes extensive rights and means of redress if those rights are violated.
Partners and Organizations Working to Pass Marsy’s Law
Coalition partners include:
- Marsy’s Law for All
- Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan
- Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault
- Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- Illinois States Attorneys Association
- Illinois State Police
- Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart
- Rainbow PUSH Coalition
- Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
- Children’s Advocacy Centers of Illinois
- Project IRENE (Illinois Religious Engaging in Non-violent Endeavors)
- Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP)
- Parents of Murdered Children
- Other community groups, victim organizations, and law enforcement organizations
Attorney General Lisa Madigan
Center on Halsted
Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network
Children’s Advocacy Centers of Illinois
Illinois States Attorneys Association
Illinois State Police
Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Illinois Fraternal Order of Police
Crime Victims United of Illinois
Parents of Murdered Children, Inc.
Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation
Support for Homicide Survivors
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP)
The Friends of Mike Mayborne