Essay:Victim rights

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The victim rights movement ostensibly promotes the interests of victims but actually has been used by prosecutors and other special interests to promote retributive justice.[1] The victim rights movement seeks to enact constitutional amendments, justifying this by noting that "the U.S. Constitution is completely silent on victims' rights, while it speaks volumes about the rights of the accused." At the same time, they try to assure people that such amendments will not undermine or weaken the rights of defendants since a "study of 36 States found that victims' rights legislation had little effect on the sentencing of convicted defendants."[2] If that is the case, then it is questionable what the point is of having victims speak at defendants' sentencing hearings. Nonetheless, voters in at least 29 states have adopted state-level crime victims' rights constitutional amendments.[3]

The Virginia victim rights amendment authorizes, but not require, the legislature to protect victim rights and "does not confer upon any person a right to appeal or modify any decision in a criminal proceeding, does not abridge any other right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States or this Constitution, and does not create any cause of action for compensation or damages against the Commonwealth or any of its political subdivisions, any officer, employee or agent of the Commonwealth or any of its political subdivisions, or any officer of the court." Ohio's constitution contains a similar provision. Given that the amendment is so devoid of any actual remedies, it seems to be mostly symbolic.