Legal Services Recomendations


For legal assistance to protect and enforce your rights as a victim, see the U.S. Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) website for legal services referrals: https://ovc.gov/rights/enforcement.html

The National Crime Victim Law Institute (NCVLI) also has a helpful legal resources directory organized by state and crime category: http://law.lclark.edu/centers/national_crime_victim _law_institute/for_victims/self_help/

Why a U.S. Constitutional Amendment for Victim Rights?


While a U.S. Constitutional Amendment may seem lofty and unrealistic, it is actually imperative to protecting and serving victims. When our founding fathers drafted the U.S. Constitution in 1787, they were recovering from the repercussions of the ruling British government that could seize their property and imprison people without a fair trial. Rights to protect the accused were imperative and written into the 1789 Bill of Rights which include:

1st Amendment: Freedom of Religion, Speech, and the Press
2nd Amendment: The Right to Bear Arms
3rd Amendment: The Housing of Soldiers
4th Amendment: Protection from Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
5th Amendment: Protection of Rights to Life, Liberty, and Property
6th Amendment: Rights of Accused Persons in Criminal Cases
7th Amendment: Rights in Civil Cases
8th Amendment: Excessive Bail, Fines, and Searches Forbidden

Some of these amendments are now represented in the “Miranda Rights” read to the accused at a crime scene: “You have the right to remain silent…. You have the right to an attorney.”

These are all important protections and part of what makes American law a model for so many democracies.

The problem for victims of crime is that the U.S. Constitutional Law is more powerful than any state or federal legislation or statues. All victim rights legislation is written at the state or federal statutory level so is inferior to U.S. Constitutional Law, therefore can and is often overridden and even ignored in favor of laws protecting the accused.

To truly protect and serve victims, victim rights legislation needs to be equivalent to the rights of the accused—which can only be accomplished through a U.S. Constitutional Amendment.

See box to the right to review proposed legislation for a U.S. Constitutional Amendment co-authored by Brooks Douglass and others.

Victims’ Rights Legislation Overview


When the Douglass Family was attacked in 1979, there were no provisions in the law to pay for their medical expenses and damages. The Douglass family’s home and possessions were auctioned off to pay for Brooks’ and Leslie’s medical bills and legal expenses. Within that, they had to pay to $156 to get their car out of impound that had been used as evidence and more than $500 for a rape exam kit included in their medical bills. Brooks and Leslie left their family home, orphaned and with only a few shopping bags of clothes and keepsakes.

While rights and provisions for victims have improved significantly over the last 40 years, there is still a long way to go.

There are 23 enumerated rights in the U.S. Constitution for anyone accused of a crime, but zero rights for victims in our country’s founding document. Consequently, law enforcement, judges, and lawyers receive extensive training in upholding defendants’ rights, but may receive little to no training in victim care. As a result, victims are often neglected and lack the financial, legal, and emotional support necessary to navigate the criminal justice system and reach a sense of restoration. As Brooks (played by Mike Vogel) says in The Amendment:

“I believe in the rights of the accused, but I also believe in the rights of victims and their families. This is a system that literally steps over the body of a victim to read a criminal his rights.”

How can you help and/or be helped?

1. Know your rights. Visit the National Crime Victim Law Institute (NCVLI) website for an overview of victim rights. Click on the titles for links to videos: http://law.lclark.edu/centers/national_crime_victim_law _institute/about_ncvli/know_your_rights.php.

2. Check your state’s law and provisions for victim rights and recovery. More than 35 states have varying rights and compensation for victims. See the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime website for more info: http://www.ovc.gov/rights/overview_rights.html

3. Join us in petitioning for state and federal legislation to protect and serve victims of crime. Brooks Douglass and others are working to institutionalize a new U.S. Constitutional Amendment for Victim Rights.

See the box below to review the proposed legislation co-authored by Brooks Douglass and others.

Enter your name and email to sign on showing your support for improved crime victim legislation:

Recommended Text of the Proposed
U.S. Constitutional Amendment for Victim Rights

 

SECTION 1. The rights of crime victims to fairness, respect, and dignity, being capable of protection without denying the constitutional rights of the accused, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State. The crime victim shall, moreover, have the rights to reasonable notice of, and shall not be excluded from, public proceedings relating to the offense, to be heard at any release, plea, sentencing, or other such proceeding involving any right established by this Article, to proceedings free from unreasonable delay, to reasonable notice of the release or escape of the accused, to due consideration for their safety, and to restitution. The crime victim or the crime victim’s lawful representative has standing to assert these rights in any court. Nothing in this Article provides grounds for a new trial or any claim for damages and no person accused of the crime may obtain any form of relief hereunder.  

SECTION 2. For purposes of this Article, “crime victim” includes any person or legal entity directly harmed by the commission of a criminal offense, delinquent act, or an act, which, if committed by a competent adult, would constitute a crime.  

SECTION 3. This article shall take effect on the 180th day after the date of its ratification.

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