Victims' Rights

Constitutional Amendments

"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, offenders.
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 1999.
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

Constitutional Amendments


Year Passed Electoral Support State

Year Passed

Electoral Support

Alabama 1994 80% Nebraska 1996 78%
Alaska 1994 87% Nevada 1996 74%
Arizona 1990 58% New Jersey 1991 85%
California 1982 56% New Mexico 1992 68%
Colorado 1992 86% North Carolina 1996 78%
Connecticut 1996 78% Ohio 1994 77%
Florida 1988 90% Oklahoma 1996 91%
Idaho 1994 79% Oregon
Illinois 1992 77%

1996 89% Rhode Island 1986 *
Kansas 1992 84% South Carolina 1996 89%
Louisiana 1998 69% Tennessee 1998 89%
Maryland 1994 92% Texas 1989 73%
Michigan 1992 84% Utah 1994 68%
Mississippi 1998 93% Virginia 1996 84%
Missouri 1992 84% Washington 1989 78%
Montana 1998 71% Wisconsin 1993 84%

* Passed by Constitutional Convention.
Archive iconThe information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.