Opinion by C J Oakes
HJ Res 93 proposes a Constitutional Amendment for Victims Rights. Presented by Trent Franks of Arizona it has been sent to the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice. This Amendment, H.J. Res. 93 seems on its face useless because every state currently has some form of protection for victims of violent crime. So why not pass a law? Why is an Amendment needed?
The proposed amendment HJ Res. 93 reads,
“SECTION 1. The following rights of a crime victim, being capable of protection without denying the constitutional rights of the accused, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State. The crime victim shall 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 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 of the crime victim’s safety, dignity, and privacy, and to restitution. The crime victim or the crime victim’s lawful representative has standing to assert and enforce these rights. Nothing in this article provides grounds for a new trial or any claim for damages. Review of the denial of any right established herein, which may include interlocutory relief, shall be subject to the standards of ordinary appellate review.
“SECTION 2. For purposes of this article, a crime victim includes any person against whom the criminal offense is committed or who is directly and proximately harmed by the commission of an act, which, if committed by a competent adult, would constitute a crime.”
What is the Meaning and Unspoken Purpose of HJ Res 93?
Victims of violent crime already have the rights to be notified of “proceedings relating to the offence” both public AND private in most states. The Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision was formed in 1937 for just that purpose. All 50 states are members of the ICAOC. The right of notification of escape is included in ICAOC rules as are the other rights put forth in the Amendment proposed by H.J. Res. 93.
So, we must ask, Is there a purpose to HJ Res 93, “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States to protect the rights of crime victims?” or is Congress simply proposing legislation to make themselves look busy? Why would an Amendment be needed rather than simply passing a law?
In reviewing the proposed amendment, I can only find one thing which may shed light on the matter. Notice the words in the text which read,
“The crime victim shall have the right…to be heard at any…sentencing…
“a crime victim includes any person against whom the criminal offense is committed or who is directly and proximately harmed by the commission of an act.”
Such as a family member of a murder victim.
Why is this important to the Amendment proposed by HJ Res. 93?
In 1987, the SCOTUS ruled in Booth v Maryland that family members making statements during the sentencing phase of a capital case was unconstitutional. Payne v Tennessee in 1991 slightly modified that position, but not entirely. Then, in 2016 Bosse v Oklahoma brought that issue back when the Court ruled against the state telling them that their prosecutors had misinterpreted the Payne ruling and that Booth was still in effect. This ruling vacated several capital cases in Oklahoma and raises the specter that the state will be faced with a multitude of appeals dating back two decades.
So, without an Amendment to the Constitution, the families of victims cannot speak during the sentencing phase of a capital case. This appears to be the only logical explanation for H.J. Res 93.