- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois voters going to the polls in November will be asked whether victims should have greater rights protected by the state constitution during criminal trials.

The Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights, approved overwhelmingly by the General Assembly last spring, would elevate the status of victims, ensuring they have information about court hearings and plea negotiations, be able to seek restitution and get necessary information on how to keep safe during criminal trials against an alleged perpetrator.

The (Champaign) News-Gazette reports (https://bit.ly/1wV3RNX ) that Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins believes her family should have been afforded such fairness when her sister, her sister’s husband, and their unborn child were murdered in suburban Chicago in 1990.

Instead, Bishop-Jenkins, who has been a crusader for victims’ rights since, said authorities told her she could not make a victim-impact statement to the court because the killer would receive a life-without-parole sentence. She didn’t know it was her right.

“It was not just about the emotional satisfaction about making the victim impact statement,” Bishop-Jenkins said, “but also about putting it in the record, making sure the victim’s voice and story is in the record.”

Authorities are required to inform victims about certain events - an accused’s release from jail or about upcoming hearings, but Polly Poskin, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said victims have often complained they are kept in the dark about key proceedings.

The initiative won unanimous Senate approval and passed the House 111-2, with “no” votes from Democrats Elaine Nekritz of Northbrook and Barbara Flynn Currie of Chicago, the majority leader.

Currie told The Associated Press that a Constitution should be a slim statement of principles and new laws could address current system shortcomings. She worries that new standards could slow the trial process or that cases involving more vocal victims would get more prosecutorial attention.

Nekritz fears unintended consequences for the balance between defendants’ and victims’ rights that has been 1,000 years in the making, from the Magna Carta through the U.S. Constitution’s 4th Amendment.

“There is a reason that we have a judicial system that has an impartial judge and a jury of your peers who do not know the victim, or the defendant … ,” Nekritz told the AP. “There’s a role for them (victims) to play but it shouldn’t be as integral to the case as I’m afraid this constitutional amendment will make it.”

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The proposal is HJRCA1.

Online: https://www.ilga.gov

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Information from: The News-Gazette, https://www.news-gazette.com


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