1997-98 Academy Text Supplement
History and Overview of the Victims' Movement
This year, we can take one more historic step to ensure that victims throughout
the country are guaranteed the fundamental rights to be present, to be informed
of significant developments in their cases and of their rights, and to be heard at
sentencing and other appropriate times throughout the criminal justice process.
The Congress should pass a Victims' Rights Amendment to the United States
Constitution that will, when ratified by the States, ensure that crime victims are
at the center of the criminal justice process, not on the outside looking in.
President William J. Clinton
1997 National Crime Victims' Rights Week Proclamation
Significant Landmarks 1996 - 1998
In 1996 through early 1998, significant developments occurred on the national and state levels
with respect to victims' rights constitutional amendments, legislation, expansion of Victims of
Crime Act fund collections, and the creation of national programs affecting crime victims.
Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendments
- In the spring of 1996, bi-partisan federal victims' rights constitutional amendments were
introduced in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. The amendment
was re-introduced in the Senate in the opening days of the 105th Congress in January of
1997. Hearings have been held in Congress on the Federal Constitutional Amendment
in 1996, 1997 and 1998.
- In April of 1996, the Senate Judiciary Committee conducted hearings on the proposed
federal constitutional amendment. While not endorsing specific language, Attorney
General Janet Reno testified in support of federal constitutional rights for crime victims.
- In June 1996, President Clinton reaffirmed his support of federal constitutional rights for
crime victims in a Rose Garden ceremony attended by members of Congress, criminal
justice officials, and local, state, and national victims' rights organizations. Also that
month, the Judiciary Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives conducted its first
hearing on the proposed amendment.
- During the 1996 elections, both presidential candidates endorsed the concept of a federal
Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendment.
- In the November elections of 1996, eight states ratified the passage of state-level
constitutional amendments -- raising the total number of state constitutional amendments
to 29 nationwide.
- In January of 1997, a federal victims' rights constitutional amendment was re-introduced
in the opening days of the 105th Congress with strong bi-partisan support.
Landmark Federal Legislation
- In 1996, the Congress passed 'Megan's Law' -- the Community Notification Act -- as an
amendment to the national Child Sexual Abuse Registry legislation. This new law
provides for notification of local communities of the location of convicted sex offenders.
President Clinton stated in his 1997 National Crime Victims' Rights Week Proclamation
that: "With community notification, we are working to prevent cases like that of the Act's
namesake, Megan Kanka, a seven-year-old who died at the hands of a repeat sex offender
released into an unsuspecting community."
- In 1996, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act was enacted that provided
one million dollars in funding to strengthen antiterrorism efforts. In addition, restitution
was made mandatory in federal violent crime cases, including domestic violence and
sexual exploitation, as well as telemarketing fraud; and compensation and victim
assistance services for victims of terrorism both at home and abroad, including victims in
the military, were expanded.
- The Mandatory Victims' Restitution Act, enacted as Title II of the Antiterrorism and
Effective Death Penalty Act of, allows federal courts to award "public harm" restitution
directly to state VOCA victim assistance programs. As a result of the new sentencing
guidelines, judges can require federal offenders in certain drug offense cases to pay
- In addition, as a result of the passage of the Antiterrorism Act and Effective Death
Penalty Act, the Office for Victims of Crime was able to use its new authority under the
Act to provide substantial financial assistance to the victims and survivors of the
Oklahoma City bombing.
- The Church Arson Prevention Act was signed into law in July of 1996, in response to
increasing numbers of acts of arson against religious institutions around the country.
- In 1996, the Drug-Induced Rape Prevention Act was enacted to address the emerging
issue of the use of sedating drugs by rapists to incapacitate their victims. (For additional
information, see Chapter 14, Sexual Assault)
- The Interstate Anti-Stalking Punishment and Prevention Act of 1996 was enacted by
Congress in September. The law was incorporated as an amendment to the Defense
Authorization bill, H.R. 3610. The Anti-Stalking Law created a uniform federal law to
protect stalking victims when they travel across a state line and on federal property,
including military bases and Indian reservations. The Act makes it a felony to cross a state
line to stalk someone in violation of a restraining order.
- The Victims' Rights Clarification Act of 1997 was enacted to give further assurance to
the right of victims of crime to attend and observe the trials of those accused of the crime.
The Act passed through Congress at an historic speed as the result of a ruling by the U.S.
District Judge presiding over the Oklahoma City bombing case. The ruling would have
excluded victims and survivors from observing the proceedings in Denver or on closed
circuit television in Oklahoma City if they were planning to give victim impact statements
during the sentencing phase. A detailed description of the Act is provided at the end of
Federal Crime Victims Fund
- In 1996, deposits in the federal Crime Victims Fund reached an all-time high -- totaling
over $525 million available for state crime victim compensation, local victim assistance
programs, national training and technical assistance, and federal victim assistance. As a
result of this landmark increase in fund collections, in 1997 states received more than
three times as much in federal funds as they have in any previous year.
- In January of 1997, the Office for Victims of Crime hosted a series of regional meetings
with state VOCA administrators to encourage states to develop multi-year funding
strategies to: help stabilize local victim assistance program funding; encourage states to
provide funding for programs that serve previously underserved crime victims, such as
Indian tribes; and encourage the use of technologies to improve victims' rights and
- To fully recognize the sovereignty of Indian Nations, the Office for Victims of Crime for
the first time in 1997 provided all discretionary VOCA Victim Assistance in Indian
Country (VAIC) grants directly to tribes. Some previous OVC grants had been awarded
as "pass-through" from states.
- In September 1996, the President directed the National Safety Transportation Board
(NTSB) to coordinate the roles of the Departments of Justice, Defense, State, and other
federal agencies with responsibilities for victim services following the tragic explosion of
TWA flight 800 and the Valuejet crash in Miami, Florida. Subsequently, Congress passed
the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act of 1996, establishing the responsibility of
NTSB in all domestic aviation disasters as "a point of contact within the Federal
Government for the families of passengers involved in the accident and a liaison between
the air carrier...and the families." (Title VII of Public Law 104-264. Cong. Rec. H11303)
- Because of its history of advocacy on behalf of crime victims and its early work with
survivors of airline crashes, the Attorney General designated OVC as the lead agency
within DOJ to work with NTSB on a coordinated government protocol for aviation
disasters. In conjunction with other DOJ components, including the FBI, OVC developed
a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to ensure that the needs of victims and their
survivors are addressed in a sensitive and appropriate manner in the event of an aviation
disaster resulting from criminal activity. It was signed by the Attorney General and the
NTSB Chair and became effective on January 28, 1997. It is the first step in developing
a coordinated government response to aviation disasters.
Other Significant Developments
- In February of 1996, the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800-799-SAFE), was
established to provide crisis intervention information and assistance to victims of domestic
violence. The new hotline was cited in the President's 1997 National Crime Victims'
Rights Week Proclamation as having already responded to more than 73,000 calls for
assistance from around the country.
- The Office for Victims of Crime launched a number of international crime victim
initiatives in 1996, including working to foster worldwide implementation of a United
Nations declaration on victims' rights and initiatives to better assist Americans who are
- The Office for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) within the U.S.
Department of Justice issued the Juvenile Justice Action Plan that includes
recommendations for victims' rights and services for victims of juvenile offenders within
the juvenile justice system.
- As stated in the President's 1997 National Crime Victims' Rights Week Proclamation,
as of April 1997, the Brady Bill has prevented over 225,000 felons, fugitives, and stalkers
from buying handguns.
- The Federal Crime Victims Fund reached its second highest year in fund collections with
deposits totaling $363 million.
- OVC continued its support of the victims and survivors of the bombing of the Alfred P.
Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City by funding additional advocates, crisis
counseling, and travel expenses to court proceedings for the bombing victims. When the
venue of the trial was changed to Denver, Colorado, OVC provided funding for a special
closed circuit broadcast to victims and survivors in Oklahoma City.
- OVC representatives joined the United States Delegation to the United Nations
Commission on Criminal Justice and Crime Prevention. OVC played a leadership role in
the development of an International Victim Assistance Training Manual to implement the
U.N. Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of
- The National Victim Center utilized its extensive legislative database to create the
Legislative Sourcebook, a comprehensive compendium of victims' rights laws in all 50
states. Developed with support from OVC, the Sourcebook became the definitive digest
of state legislation on crime victims' rights laws for the nation.
- The third National Victim Assistance Academy was held, bringing the total number of
students graduates to over 300 from 48 states. Supported by OVC and sponsored by the
Victims' Assistance Legal Organization, California State University-Fresno, and the
National Crime Victims Resource Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, the
45-hour Academy was conducted simultaneously at four universities across the nation
linked by distance-learning technology.
- A comprehensive national training for VOCA Compensation and Assistance programs is
hosted by the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards and the
National Organization for Victim Assistance with support from OVC. VOCA
representatives from all 50 states and every territory attended the conference.
- During National Crime Victims Rights Week, OVC officially launched its homepage
<http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/> providing Internet access to its comprehensive
resources on victims' rights and services.
The Victims' Rights Clarification Act of 1997
In March of 1997, just weeks before the scheduled start of the Oklahoma City bombing trial, a
ruling by the presiding U.S. District Court judge excluded victims and survivors from observing
the proceedings in Denver or on closed-circuit television in Oklahoma City, if they were planning
to give victim impact testimony during the sentencing phase of the case. In what most lawmakers
and seasoned public policy experts have said clocked 'historic speed' in the passage of a federal
law, Congress rushed to pass the Victims Rights Clarification Act of 1997, in time for President
Clinton to sign just minutes before leaving the country for Helsinki, Finland for a summit with
Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
Although existing federal law allowed for both victim impact statements during sentencing
hearings and the right of victims to attend the trial of a defendant accused of offenses against
them, the federal judge's ruling would have sequestered victims who planned on being "impact
witnesses" during the sentencing phase. As stated by Senator Patrick Leahy, "Two of the most
important rights that Congress can safeguard for crime victims are the right to witness the trial
of the accused, and the right to be heard in connection with the sentencing decision. (March 20,
Senator Don Nickles from Oklahoma summarized the immediate need for the Act's passage:
"Congress thought it already had adopted provisions precluding such sequestration in the
Victims' Bill of Rights. This bill clarifies the pre-existing law so it is indisputable that district
courts cannot deny victims and surviving family members the opportunity to watch the trial
merely because they will provide information during the sentencing phase of the proceedings."
("Law Sets Bomb Victims, Families Free to Testify, View Trials." (1997, March 20). Daily Oklahoman.)
Language in the Victims Rights Clarification Act of 1997 states that it "shall apply in cases
pending on the date of the enactment of this Act." At the time of its passage, questions were
raised concerning the issue of whether the law might violate the constitutional separation of
powers by having the legislative branch direct how judges in the judicial branch manage their
courtrooms. Senator Nickles countered this potential problem by stating: "This bill applies to all
pending cases and in no way singles out a case for unique or special treatment. Rather, a serious
problem has come to light, and Congress has responded by clarifying the applicable federal law
across the country from this day forward." (Ibid.)
Specifically, the Act amends Chapter 223 of Title 18 of the United States Code by adding the
following new language in Section 3510 -- Rights of Victims to Attend and Observe the Trial:
- Non-capital cases: "Notwithstanding any statute, rule, or other provision of law,
a United States district court shall not order any victim of an offense excluded
from the trial of a defendant accused of that offense because such victim may,
during the sentencing hearing, make a statement or present any information in
relation to the sentence.
- Capital cases: "Notwithstanding any statute, rule, or other provision of law, a
United States district court shall not order any victim of an offense excluded from
the trial of a defendant accused of that offense because such victim may, during
the sentencing hearing, testify as to the effect of the offense on the victim and the
victim's family or as to any other factor for which notice is required under section
- Clarification of Grounds for Exclusion: Section 3593(c) of title 18, United
States Code, is amended by inserting "For the purposes of the preceding sentence,
the fact that the victim, as defined in 3510, attended or observed the trial shall not
be construed to pose a danger of creating unfair prejudice, confusing the issues,
or misleading the jury."
(Title 18, Chapter 223, United States Code, as amended by the Victims Rights Clarification Act of 1997.
See Section 3510: Rights of Victims to Attend and Observe Trial.)
- On May 29, 1998, New Directions from the Field: Victims Rights and Services for the
21st Century was released to the field. The Report was developed with support from OVC
and input from over 1000 individuals across the nation. It assessed the nation's progress
in meeting the recommendations set forth in the Final Report of the 1982 President's
Task Force on Victims of Crime and issued over 250 new recommendations from the field
for the next millennium. The Office for Victims of Crime is printing 30,000 copies of this
report and will disseminate widely across the nation.
The information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.