- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 17, 2002

President Bush yesterday voiced strong support for a constitutional amendment to ensure the rights of violent-crime victims, saying judicial deference to criminals is "not just, it's not fair and it must change."
Seeking to change the U.S. Constitution for just the 28th time in 213 years, the president said the court system protects criminals' rights to "the nth degree" but often ignores the rights of victims.
"Too often, our system fails to inform victims about proceedings involving bail and pleas and sentencing and even about the trials themselves. Too often, the process fails to take the safety of victims into account when deciding whether to release dangerous offenders," Mr. Bush said.
The president's comments came in support of a bipartisan Senate bill introduced Monday by sponsors Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat.
While some conservatives oppose altering the Constitution for any reason, Mr. Bush said: "The protection of victims' rights is one of those rare instances when amending the Constitution is the right thing to do.
"And the Feinstein-Kyl Crime Victims' Rights Amendment is the right way to do it," he added.
Mr. Kyl said bipartisan support included many of the Senate's more liberal members, such as Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, who attended yesterday's event in the Justice Department's Great Hall.
"I can tell you stories from Arizona and virtually every other state where victims have been denied the most basic rights and as a result have been victimized a second time," Mr. Kyl said in an interview.
Mrs. Feinstein said criminal defendants have 23 separate constitutional rights 15 added by amendments to the Constitution but "there is not a single word in the Constitution to protect the rights of crime victims."
"This amendment will bring balance to the system by giving crime victims the rights to be informed, present and heard at critical stages throughout their case the least that the system owes to those it failed to protect in the first place," she said.
The bill's chances of passing look bleak, however. The measure was tabled last year for lack of support. One aide to a top Republican senator said simply: "This won't happen. There just isn't enough support."
Altering the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress and approval by three-fourths of the 50 states. Since the Constitution was adopted in 1787, it has been amended 27 times, beginning with ratification of the Bill of Rights in 1789.
The Feinstein-Kyl constitutional amendment would not allow for new criminal trials or specific claims for damages, but would declare that "the rights of victims of violent crime, being capable of protection without denying the constitutional rights of those accused of victimizing them, are hereby established and shall not be denied by any state or the United States."
In addition, federal and state courts would provide victims of violent crime the right to be:
Included in any public proceeding involving the crime or release of the convict.
Heard at any plea, sentencing, release, reprieve or pardon hearing.
Informed about any matter affecting the victim's safety or restitution for the crime.
Thirty-two states already have state constitutional amendments guaranteeing the rights of victims.
Civil liberties groups have opposed the amendment as a potential threat to a fair trial for the accused.
"We can ensure that victims have a say in seeing that justice is done without amending the Constitution or putting the rights of the accused at risk," the American Civil Liberties Union said on its Web site yesterday.

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