'Victims' Rights' Don't Belong in the Constitution
Political Gambit Ignores Traditional State Concerns
Washington, DC (April 22, 1996) -- "The last thing we need is to tinker with the federal Constitution so that some cynical politicians can gain political capital in an election year" Robert Fogelnest, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), said today. Fogelnest, a prominent New York City attorney, was reacting to today's introduction in Congress of a proposed constitutional amendment on victims' rights.
"There is room for improvement in the criminal justice system to make it more 'user friendly' to victims of crime, but such improvements are best left to state and local authorities," Fogelnest said.
"Crime is a state issue, and the citizens of each state are quite capable of sorting out for themselves what, if any, improvements are required," he noted. "Federal constitutional requirements like those proposed today are a caricature of Congress' tendency to federalize everything in sight and then run on a 'states' rights' platform, anyway," he added.
"This proposal would work a complete restructuring of our adversarial system of justice," he said. "To every criminal proceeding in every court in the land, there would be added a third party whose specific rights would have to be litigated, determined, and balanced against the constitutional protections of the accused. And a class of private prosecutors -- victims' lawyers, for those who could afford them -- would spring up. You think courts are overwhelmed now?"
"The greatest good we can do for victims is to decrease their numbers. Rather than loading more work and more expectations on courts and prosecutors, we need more education, more drug addiction treatment and more alternatives to imprisonment that enable defendants to work. In short, we need an effective crime prevention policy, not another press opportunity for politicians," Fogelnest concluded.