VICTIM RELATED EVENTS
The National Victim Law Bar Association's annual national conference is in Chicago in October 2008
National Organization of Victim Assistance
has victim related training and conferences and events all year long.
VICTIMS VOICES SPEAKING OUT
A local Victim and Advocate writes an OpEd that is published in the Chicago Tribune:
Gun violence is an epidemic
Our Response to the Washington Post article against victims rights (below):
I am troubled by the patronizing tone and misinformation in the editorial "Where Victims' Rights Go Wrong" (Barry Boss, Monday, April 23, 2007). I am a murder victims family member, active in victim advocacy, and in the spirit of this national week that we try to pay attention to the needs and concerns of victims, especially one week after the Virginia Tech tragedy that has traumatized the nation, one has to question the wisdom of the message, and the timing of this article. Red flags should go up anytime anyone says "I sympathize with victims . . .BUT . . .".
Further, the author is quite wrong - the right to speak in court (victim impact statements), the right to consult (be told what the prosecution is planning and share their own points of view) and the right to be supported and informed throughout the entire trial is NOT tantamount to being on the prosecution team.
Victims remain some of the most neglected members in our society and the advances in recognition of victims rights do not even come close to placing victims in a position of inappropriate "influence" on the cases being tried.
One need look no farther than the current headlines in Chicago where States Attorney Richard Devine has sought the death penalty in the infamous Brown's Chicken murders in Palatine, despite the fact that the victims families, 5 out of 7 of them, want no death penalty in that case.
And victims families will often want harsher sentences, as well, for the offenders. It is not uncommon that victims will feel that no punishment can be hard enough, because often it can never come close to what they have suffered.
These cases are always tempered by the full and whole judicial process that represents the entire citizenry.
Mr. Boss is a defense attorney who clearly has come to see victims families as the enemy, likely because he has not been properly trained how to understand and react to their trauma.
I have worked in training with Defense Attorneys so that they can learn to understand and not be threatened by victims' trauma. They must learn not to see them as adversaries in the case, but, if the victims so choose, as participants.
It is incredibly important to remember that victims were made participants in the case by the choices of the offender, not by their own choice.
Even the most basic understanding of psychology reveals the deepest links between the well-being of the victims and the fate of the offender. That horrible relationship, created by the offender, has to be handled with the utmost compassion and delicacy and respect.
Victims Rights are Human Rights. We cannot expect the human and constitutional rights of the offenders to be respected in any system that does not also respect the rights of the victims.
Victims need to know what is going on with their case. They need to feel heard. They need support. They need to be able to understand.
And offenders have rights - the right to counsel, trial, due process, all of the constitutional protections.
And if all those things happen, then the judicial system, which does not and should not make decisions based on what are the wishes of the victims families alone, but on what is just for society as a whole, can know that it has helped to heal the injuries done when people choose to do evil things - to hurt each other.
Where Victims' Rights Go Wrong
Washington Post By Barry Boss
Monday, April 23, 2007; A17
Since 1981, the Justice Department's Office for Victims of Crime has dedicated a week in April to recognizing crime victims' rights. The week -- this year's observance began yesterday -- is usually marked by rallies, candlelight vigils and other activities intended to promote victims' rights and to honor crime victims and those who work on their behalf.
Victims deserve the recognition that this week provides, and they deserve sympathy and compensation for their losses. But I am increasingly concerned about what I believe they do not deserve, which is the right to serve as de facto prosecutors, a practice that is quietly insinuating itself into the legal system.
Our desire to increase victims' rights is closely related to our national obsession with being "tough on crime." While this mantra makes for good political rhetoric, it often leads to illogical and irrational criminal justice policies. Being "tough on crime" has led to harsh mandatory minimum sentences in federal drug cases that have disproportionately punished minorities. It has resulted in first-time offenders serving life sentences even though their crimes involved no weapon and resulted in no physical injuries; in 6-year-olds being arrested for tantrums at school; and, worst of all, in innocent people on death row.
Courts have increasingly become more cognizant of the rights of victims. In 1996, restitution became mandatory for a variety of federal crimes. In 2002, Congress provided the victims of violent crimes and sexual abuse the right to speak at a defendant's sentencing, even though courts already had latitude in any kind of case to permit victims to speak at sentencing or to receive information from victims before sentences were imposed. And last year, the issue reached the Supreme Court in a murder case in which the victim's supporters had attended the trial wearing buttons that displayed a picture of the victim (the court avoided addressing whether such conduct is prejudicial)
The latest manifestation of our "tough on crime" policy comes in the proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, which will implement the 2004 Crime Victims' Rights Act. One U.S. district judge ruled that the statute renders victims "independent participant[
Under the act, victims have the right to be heard in court on questions of bond, plea agreements and sentencing, and they have the right to confer with prosecutors about a case. If victims are unhappy with how a prosecutor or trial court has treated them, they are permitted to seek relief in the U.S. Court of Appeals, and the appellate court must rule on their application within 72 hours (an unprecedented remedy).
Thus, under the act, victims at a minimum become a member of the prosecution team and, indeed, have significant leverage over the professional prosecutors. The president and many in Congress support an amendment for crime victims' rights that would incorporate several of these points into the Constitution.
While we may support the notion that victims' rights should be at least as strong as those of defendants, within the context of the criminal justice system these rights are mutually exclusive. Any rights provided to the victim must come at the expense of the rights provided to a defendant. Indeed, providing the victim with a role in the prosecution assumes a crime has been committed, despite the bedrock constitutional proposition that the accused is presumed innocent.
When we turn victims into members of the prosecution team, we distort a process, so carefully constructed more than 200 years ago, that eschewed vigilante justice or prosecution for personal ends in favor of prosecution by the sovereign with significant rights afforded to the accused. We expect prosecutors to make decisions about whom to prosecute and what types of sentences to seek based on myriad considerations, including, but far from limited to, the interests of victims. Where victims play a controlling role in the prosecution, the consideration of those factors no longer focuses on what is best for society but rather on what victims need or want as "justice."
I sympathize with individuals victimized by criminals. I understand their anger, outrage and desire for vengeance, particularly when faced with the kind of malevolence displayed last week at Virginia Tech. Securing assistance and compensation for victims is an unquestionable priority, and we need to promote healing to the greatest extent possible.
But the criminal justice system cannot focus on the victim; rather, it must follow its rich tradition of protecting society as a whole, ensuring that justice is achieved in accordance with the Constitution. As we appropriately focus on improving the plight of crime victims this week, let's not forget about the plight of the falsely accused or of the criminal justice system itself.
The writer, a criminal defense lawyer in Washington, is a former assistant federal public defender and former co-chairman of the U.S. Sentencing Commission's Practitioners' Advisory Group
Below are some letters from victims' family members telling their stories and lending their encouragement to our efforts in fighting for victims in Illinois:
OUR LETTER TO THE EDITOR:
Rex Huppke's otherwise excellent article (Jan 26, "A Father Re-Lives Nightmare")about the dangers of early release of murderers assured Illinoisans that a similar parole of killers couldn't happen here. In fact, an effort to reinstate parole for killers is actually now well underway in Illinois. A state legislative committee was studying such a possibility this year. Only victims' outcry removed that option from the study. Now parole advocates, undaunted, are launching a campaign to go directly to the legislature. Like the father depicted in the story, Illinois victims families are now having to relive their trauma as they fight this misguided effort that could easily result in the same disastrous consequences.
Gerri Flynn, Rockford
Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, Northfield
A letter from a murdered heroic law enforcement officers about her struggles with the parole process:
I was filled with so much information yesterday I really do not know where to
start. So here is the petition I have been having signed number
1. I will scan
some of the petitions from the Sheriff and other Government Officials on Monday.
ED NOTE: Jennifer and her family mounted a successful challenge to the release of Mr. Bacino in 2007. They are now preparing for the 2008 hearing after only a few months respite from this battle.
Jennifer, Hi, my name is Donna Marquez. I am with the IL Chapter of COPS, and the Chicago Police Gold Star Families. My brother was serving a warrant on March 18, 2002, He was shot 4 times by a 77 year old sick man. He died a few hours into surgery. Our lives have been forever changed by this horrible tragedy. I recently became the President of the Gold Star Families of CPD, please let me know what we can do to assist you. Thank you.
I am Jennifer S's mom, Terry. We look forward to rejoicing where this will take us, because we have all been put into this forum for a better cause. We will follow your advise and I am so proud of the groundwork that Jennifer has already covered with the advise you have provided her with besides her own gut instincts.
She is very determined, and this time Mike's voice, along with ours, and yours will be heard for all the victims we need to represent. I am so grateful you have already had a voice before the General Assembly.
I regret that my daughters, who were toddlers at the time, have to devote time away from their families, to fight for OUR rights. No amount of good citizenship, law abiding perfectionism will EARN any of US an early "EARNED RELEASE."
You and my daughter have my undivided attention and I will devote all the time you need from me for this cause. All our loved ones who experienced their last breath at the hand of these murderers will be heard through our voices.
Thank you and Bless you,
Terry L. (Mayborne) R
My father, Alvin B Bell, was robbed and brutally murder on June 21,
1989 by a neighborhood friend, Ernest Sims. Sims was convicted and sentenced
to the Illinois Correctional Center in Centralia for a measly 36 years. To
my disbelief and heartache he is being released on March29, 2007 after only
serving 18 years. I am appalled that they would do this without any input
from us, the family. I have started to relive every moment of that time with
pain and anger. It took me 10 years to get the images of my father that
night out of my head. It's amazing how I remember it so vividly like it was
yesterday, the blood. I always thought we would be notified regarding the
parole hearing and as a family could stop it or at least try to, for my
father's sake. How could they take that from us? The sad part about this is
that the parole board didn't notify us of Sims release. The Illinois State's
Attorney's Office Victim-Witness Assistance looked through the file of the
case and notified us. To my disgust, they informed me that due to new
legislation victims and the family of the victims no longer have the right
to speak out at the parole hearings for ourselves or our loved ones lost by
these senseless acts. I have only 1 month to try and protest this for my
father's sake, I owe him that. This cold-hearted murderer will be released
at the age of 39, still a young man, to live, have a family, grow old and
enjoy his grandchildren. My father was entitled to that also and no one had
the right to take it away, no one but God. I always consoled myself with the
thought that he would be a broken-down old man when he got out. I don't have
I have been reading the history of HJR80 and truly appreciate your insight, strength and guidance that you have offered to other victims. Right now our emotions are peaking, but we keep reminding ourselves to stay with the facts you have presented us with and document our notifications and conversations with PRB. Besides my husband being murdered, I have a current co-worker who was shot three times in the face (a female police officer) and left for dead. Several major surgery's, court, emotions, etc. has left her with a very strong faith. My fear is she firmly believes her perpetrator will never step out of prison. We also work with another officers family (Rockford Police officer Kevin Rice) who was killed by a man who had just been released from prison for killing someone else. It breaks my heart to think that her young children may someday face what my Jennifer (Sutkay) is facing. It is just WRONG!! My other daughter, Jen's older sister is currently in emotional turmoil. The effects are just now reaching her 30 years later. She is a mess. When she saw her father's murderer on video, her grief was so raw, you would have thought she had just received word of her father's death. We do have her in counseling, at our expense, not the state's. Although, Bacino brags about the counseling he can receive in prison for whatever it is he needs!! I take some responsibility for not seeking grief counseling sooner for them to help process this all, but then it was not offered or heard of, and I truly believed in our court system with a jury and Judge that I would NEVER have to worry about this issue again.
I am only sharing thoughts with you so you will see your ground work has been set forth for so many others and the experience in your grief and determination to direct your frustration in a more productive manner will worth every effort and tear. You truly have our support and we will work with the other IllinoisVictims.org families to bring the awareness to a broader population.