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Crime Victims - Victims' Bill Of Rights

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The victims' rights movement successfully pushed for legal protections for victims similar to those of defendants. By the twenty-first century every state either passed laws or adopted constitutional amendments to support victims in criminal prosecution. Wisconsin was the first state to establish a bill of rights for victims in 1980, which also provided funding for victim assistance programs. California followed in 1982. Crime victims and victims' rights organizations pushed for all states to protect victims' rights, believing many victims were ignored and even mistreated by criminal justice systems that seemed more focused on protecting the legal rights of defendants.

While victims' bill of rights varied from state to state, they each required that victims be treated with dignity and fairness by police, prosecutors, and other officials as well as provided with protection from threats and harm. Many also required the police to notify victims about the progress of their case, from the investigation phase to when criminals were released from prison, and to inform victims of upcoming court dates such as parole hearings.

In forty-one states, victims have the legal right to attend the trial of their offender. In twenty-two states prosecutors must notify victims of any plea bargains before agreements are reached. In twenty-three states the victim has the right to


Another way victims can play an active role in resolving crimes against them is through a process called victim-offender mediation. In mediation, both the victim and offender must agree to meet and attempt to settle their dispute in a face-to-face manner, under the guidance of a mediator (a neutral party who helps resolve conflicts).

The mediation process predates the modern U.S. criminal justice system and was widely used in ancient times. Native American tribal justice systems have existed for centuries and still used this approach in the late 1990s. Several hundred mediation programs existed in the United States in the early twenty-first century. They can be found in the court system or the offices of sheriffs and prosecutors.

Mediation does require offenders to assume personal responsibility for their actions by admitting to the crime. The goal is to negotiate an agreement concerning the crime, with both parties having the opportunity to tell their stories and discuss what can be done to resolve the issues facing them. If the mediation is successful, the victim and offender write an agreement and sign it. The offender usually agrees to pay some compensation, perform services, or seek counseling. Mediators assign someone from their office to make sure both parties carry out terms of the agreement.

Occasionally, no agreement can be reached through mediation and the case returns to the usual criminal justice process. By this time, however, offenders have already admitted to their crimes as part of the mediation process. In some situations, the criminal justice system may still prosecute the case, even after an agreement is reached.

Mediations of more serious crimes, including murder, do occur though not as often. These cases, however, are more likely to be pursued after criminal prosecution has been completed and are usually conducted within a prison.

Mediation poses some risks to victims. If the offender fails to carry out the terms of the agreement, the victim may feel victimized once again. Most agreements, however, are honored; in these cases victims find their fears decrease while offenders often make positive changes in their lives as well.

speak in a hearing concerning a judge's acceptance of a plea bargain. Victims are also allowed the opportunity to write statements about how the crime affected them and their families. These statements are presented when the offender is sentenced and also at parole hearings. Forty-eight states must notify victims if their offender escapes from prison or a mental health facility.

Congress continued to find ways to increase victim rights while not restricting the rights of defendants. Following the lead of the various states, Congress passed the Crime Control Act and the Victims' Rights and Restitution Act both 1990. The Crime Control Act provided a federal bill of rights for victims of federal crime; the Restitution Act confirmed that victims had a right to compensation and use of federal services offering help to crime victims.

Congress passed other laws such as the Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990, which provided a wide range of rights and protections for victims and witnesses of abuse; the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which provided domestic violence victims the right to testify at the sentencing and release hearings of their offender. The Violent Crime Control Act also offered counseling and restitution for victims of sexual assault, domestic abuse, and child abuse.

The Mandatory Victims' Restitution Act of 1996 further strengthened the requirements for defendants, including drug defendants in particular, to compensate victims for losses. The Victim Rights Clarification Act of 1997 reaffirmed the right of victims to attend the trials of their offenders.

Supporters or advocates for victims' rights pointed out that federal law protected the rights of victims, but the Constitution protected the rights of defendants. This meant defendants had more protection than victims should a case ever pit victim rights against constitutional rights. In an attempt to increase victim rights, a Victims' Rights Amendment to the Constitution was introduced in the mid-1990s and endorsed by President Bill Clinton (1946–; served 1993–2001). Following heated debate in Congress in April 2000, however, the amendment was dropped. If crime victims ever do receive protections equivalent to those of crime offenders, the criminal justice system would probably be forced to make major changes.

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