SUPPORTING THE MISSION AND GOALS OF NATIONAL CRIME VICTIMS' RIGHTS WEEK -- (House of Representatives - April 23, 2007)
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Mr. CHABOT. Madam Speaker, I rise in strong support of this important resolution.
The recognition of National Crime Victims' Rights Week continues the legacy of an individual who committed himself to elevating the status of crime victims in this country. Among the many contributions made during his Presidency, President Ronald Reagan's leadership and vision in advancing the cause of crime victims is immeasurable. Recognition of National Crime Victims' Week reflects just one of a number of accomplishments which also include national days of observance, creating the Office of Victims of Crime, and establishing the Task Force on Victims of Crime.
Too often, victims of crime are made to be victims a second time, this time as a result of our criminal justice system, the very system designed to protect them. In 2004, 20 years after Congress enacted the Victims of Crime Act which authorized the Victims Assistance Fund, Congress enacted the Justice for All Act. This was another important victory for crime victims, as it extended a number of enforceable rights to crime victims, including the right to reasonably be heard at any public proceeding involving release, or plea or sentencing, the right to file a motion to reopen a plea, or a sentence in certain circumstances, and most importantly, the right to be treated with dignity and fairness and respect.
However, the enactment of these rights is just one of a number of important changes that needs to occur to ensure that our Nation's criminal justice system is just for both offenders and for the victims of those crimes.
Continued recognition and support of National Crime Victims' Week serves many purposes, including to remind us of what victims have suffered, to thank those individuals and organizations who have selflessly dedicated themselves to assisting victims, and to urge us all to rededicate ourselves to continue President Reagan's vision and leadership in advancing the cause of victims of crime.
And I also want to note that for a number of years a number of us have worked very hard to pass a victims' right constitutional amendment. Now, we ought not to amend the Constitution unless it is absolutely necessary. And I think this is one incident in which it is necessary because the criminals, the defendants, their rights are contained within the Constitution itself. The right to a trial, for example. The right to have witnesses called on their behalf, the right not to have to self-incriminate all are within the Constitution. However, the victims, not a word in the Constitution.
There are laws that have been passed, such as the law which gives a victim the right to be heard at a sentencing hearing or have family members heard at a sentencing hearing, but those are statutes. Oftentimes what happens is they come into conflict, and a judge will have to make a decision because they may be in conflict with each other.
The defendant has his or her rights within the Constitution. They are up here. The victim, their rights down here are statutory. And when it comes to deciding which one is going to prevail, the Constitution will trump that statute every time. Therefore, the crime, the one who committed the crime, the defendant, the criminal, their rights are held higher than the victims. That is just not right.
That is why Henry Hyde, when he was a Member of Congress, had introduced this some years ago, and about 5 years ago I took that up, took up the mantle for Henry to continue to push this way, and we have made progress. We have made progress in the law; but thus far, it is still not within the Constitution and it ought to be.
I want to thank the gentlewoman and Mr. Scott also for pushing for this particular resolution this week. I urge my colleagues to support this resolution and to support all victims of crime all across the country.
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