Relatives of Southern California murder victims gathered in Westwood on Tuesday to support a constitutional amendment that would guarantee certain rights for crime victims.
At a morning news conference, local chapters of Parents of Murdered Children endorsed the Victims Rights Amendment, a bill proposed by U.S. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would guarantee victims specific rights, including the right to be informed of and be present at major stages of the case, the right to be heard at proceedings, the right to be informed of a release or escape of an offender and the right to a speedy trial.
Feinstein said the amendment is necessary because while those accused of a crime are guaranteed 15 constitutional rights, victims have no constitutional protection. Only 28 states have passed victims rights legislation, a patchwork of bills that do not sufficiently protect survivors of crime, she said.
“When the framers wrote this document, they didn’t know that one day there would be 40 million victims of crime [every year],” Feinstein said. “This guarantees some specific rights on the other side of the scales.”
Parents of local crime victims praised Feinstein’s effort to pass the bill and said there is a need for legislation to ensure that survivors are not victimized again by the court system.
“We have been forced to become active, grieving participants in the criminal justice system, a system that all too often places the victim, not the accused, on trial,” said Ralph Meyers, whose son, Tom, was murdered in July 1993 while confronting gang members at a party in Canoga Park.
The Victims Rights Amendment has been introduced in the House and the Senate and is awaiting a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. If approved by Congress, the amendment would require ratification by three-quarters of the states to become law.
Although California was the first to pass a state victims rights amendment, relatives of murder victims said many survivors do not know their rights and are forced to struggle through the system alone.
“It’s as though once you lose your loved one, all your rights have been stripped,” said Lawanda Hawkins, a Palos Verdes resident who said no one has been arrested in the murder of her 19-year-old son, who was shot in San Pedro in December 1995. “It’s like the whole world has turned their back on you.”