"When someone is a victim, he or she should be at the center of the criminal
justice process, not on the outside looking in. Participation in all forms of
government is the essence of democracy. Victims should be guaranteed the right
to participate in proceedings related to crimes committed against them. People
accused of crimes have explicit constitutional rights. Ordinary citizens have a
constitutional right to participate in criminal trials by serving on a jury. The press
has a constitutional right to attend trials. All of this is as it should be. It is only
the victims of crime who have no constitutional right to participate, and that is not
the way it should be."
|President William Jefferson Clinton, Remarks at
Announcement of Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendment
June 25, 1996
The issue of federal constitutional protection of victims' rights was first raised in the landmark
President's Task Force on Victims of Crime Final Report published in 1982. Its authors
proposed augmenting the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to provide that ". . . the
victim, in every criminal prosecution, shall have the right to be present and to be heard at all
critical stages of judicial proceedings."
Prior to the 1998 elections, a total of 29 states had passed state victims' rights constitutional
amendments. In the Fall of 1998, the voters in four additional states approved state victims'
rights constitutional amendments -- Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana and Tennessee. Also in
1998, the Oregon Supreme Court overturned that state's victims' rights constitutional amendment,
citing structural deficiencies. Thus, with one loss and four gains, a total of 33 states have
amended their constitutions, but a total of 32 states enjoy current constitutional protection for
victims, guaranteeing an array of rights, including notification, participation, protection and
input. A handful of states apply these constitutional rights to victims of juvenile, as well as adult,
In April of 1996, and again in the opening session of the new Congress in January of 1997, a
Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendment was introduced by Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in the U.S. Senate and by Henry Hyde (R-IL) in the House of
Representatives. In June of 1996, President Clinton endorsed the concept of a federal
constitutional amendment for crime victims' rights in a special ceremony held at the White
House. His moving words are quoted above.
The Judiciary Committees in the Senate and House of Representatives have held hearings on the
federal constitutional amendment. Attorney General Janet Reno testified to the need for
constitutional rights for crime victims at hearings held in 1997.
On April 1, 1998, Senators Jon Kyl and Dianne Feinstein introduced a new version of the
constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 44. In order to gain key Senate Judiciary
Committee support, this new version of the proposed federal Victims' Rights Constitutional
Amendment incorporates two significant language changes to the previous version: (1) the
amendment is limited to victims of violent crime; and (2) Section 2 now includes language stating
that a violation of crime victims' rights pursuant to the Amendment gives no grounds to overturn
a sentence or negotiated plea agreement. In July 1998, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-6 in favor of SJR 44. Since no further action was taken on SJR 44 during the 105th Congress,
the amendment would have to be reintroduced after the 106th Congress convenes in January
The proposed federal Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendment continues to receive strong
bipartisan support, as well as support from organizations representing national, state and local
victim services, law enforcement, criminal justice, and community and institutional corrections.
For additional information on the federal constitutional amendment, contact your elected
representative. You may also wish to contact:
National Organization for Victim Assistance
1757 Park Road, NW
Washington, D.C. 20010
202-232-6682 or 1-800-TRY-NOVA (879-6682)
National Center for Victims of Crime
2111 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 300
Arlington, VA 22201
703-276-2880 or 1-800-FYI-CALL (394-2255)
National Victims' Constitutional Amendment Network
789 Sherman Street, Suite 505
Denver, Colorado 80203
History of State Victims' Rights
* Passed by Constitutional Convention.
The information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.