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Franks, Montgomery push constitutional amendment for victims’ rights

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, left, and John Gillis, chief of the county attorney’s office Victim Services Division, testify in Washington on behalf of a proposed constitutional amendment to protect victims’ rights. (Cronkite News Service photo by Jessica Goldberg)

WASHINGTON – After his daughter was shot, execution-style, in 1979 by a gang member out to kill a police officer’s child, John Gillis and his wife were forced to sit outside the courtroom during the killer’s trial.

When a deal was cut letting the killer avoid the death penalty by pleading guilty to second-degree murder, Gillis was not present, nor was he allowed to speak at sentencing.

That is why a federal constitutional amendment is needed to guarantee crime victims have at least as many rights as accused criminals, Gillis told a House committee Thursday.

“Every crime victim in the United States should be guaranteed the right to be present, the right to be treated with dignity and respect and the right to be heard,”said Gillis, now chief of the victim’s services division in the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.

He was one of several witnesses supporting a bill that would add a victims’ rights amendment to the Constitution. Proponents say a national amendment is needed to address the patchwork of victims’ rights between states.

“Without this kind of overarching effort, I’m not sure we ever get where we need to be,” said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, one of the sponsors of the measure.

Franks said the bill is patterned after victim protections in Arizona’s Constitution. It would give victims the right to be present at public proceedings; to speak at release, plea or sentencing proceedings; to be treated with respect and fairness; and to restitution.

But critics said there is “no compelling reason” for a constitutional amendment when legislation can achieve the same goals.

Many states already recognize victims’ rights and a federal amendment could undermine them, said Robert Mosteller, a University of North Carolina law professor.

He called the bill’s definition of “victim” too broad, not drawing differences between felonies and misdemeanors or violent and property crimes. Without these distinctions, states could be overwhelmed by an increased workload and higher costs.

“This federal amendment obliterates those fine distinctions,” Mosteller testified. “It would add cost and harm efficiency in overworked and underfunded state criminal justice systems.”

But Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said a victims’ rights amendment should be one of the top priorities for Congress, trailing only the budget and immigration reform.

At a news conference before Thursday’s hearing, victims talked of being forced to wait outside courtrooms during trials, like “dogs with fleas,” while defendants’ families were escorted to reserved seats.

“Crime is unkind and vicious all by itself. But then we have the justice system that lives, exists to do just things,” said Tim Jeffries, whose brother was murdered in 1981.

“But often … the justice system is not particularly just,” said Jeffries, a board member of Arizona Voice for Crime Victims.

Arizona’s Constitution recognizes a number of victims’ rights, including the right to be informed when a criminal is released from custody, to be present at all criminal proceedings where the defendant will appear, and to be heard at post-conviction release proceedings.

A federal amendment faces a long road to approval. It must first win two-thirds support in the House and Senate before being sent to the states, three-quarters of which have to ratify an amendment before it can take effect.

The 27th Amendment, limiting Congress’ ability to adjust its pay, was the most recent to be approved, in 1992.

Montgomery said there have been “four or five” bills for a victims’ rights amendment to the Constitution, dating back to 1996. But Franks said he is optimistic about the chances for this latest push.

“(The bill) is something that has gained significantly in bipartisan appeal, so I am convinced it has an excellent chance of passage if it has a fair vote,” Franks said.

Recognizing victims’ rights

A House bill proposing a victims’ rights amendment to the Constitution says victims should have a right to:

• Fairness, respect, and dignity … without denying the constitutional rights of the accused;
• Reasonable notice of, and not exclusion from, public proceedings relating to the offense;
• Be heard at any release, plea, sentencing, or other such proceeding;
• Proceedings free from unreasonable delay, to reasonable notice of the release or escape of the accused;
• Due consideration of the crime victim’s safety and privacy
• Restitution.
• Fully assert and enforce these rights in any court.

16 comments

  1. Are you serious? A long road to victim’s rights. RIDICULOUS! What has happened to our Country that the public puts criminal rights over those of the victims. VERY DISAPPOINTED IN WHAT USED TO BE MY COUNTRY. Politically correct is the bane of the existance of every part of the Constitution.

  2. Again, what restitution is there for the capital crime of murder? Taking a life cannot be repaid, and the ancient response has been a life for a life. With full sympathy for crime victims of all degrees, one must carefully consider the most effective response to calls for ‘victim rights’. Restitution is not just biblical; it is also the only honest remedy. One cannot repay society unless one has first repaid the individual victim.

    Since the event referenced in the article occurred in a state court, it stands to reason that state law is the proper venue for remedy; crimes against the federal government–the People– and restitution would be addressed under US Code. Indeed, state constitutions and statues are already the venue to address state legal concerns. If current state laws do not adequately address the issue of ‘wrongful restitution’ than they need to be addressed.

    Inviting a revision of the U.S. Constitution takes a dangerous risk of opening the amendment process to any and all calls for other issues, including the complete rewrite of the entire document as the convention itself is the overall authority over Congress, the courts and the Constitution itself.

    While intending to address the noble concept of proper compensation to the victim, this is not a national constitutional issue; it is of the states; commendable but not advisable.

    In fact, Chief Justice Burger would ague against the Arizona Attorney General in that he totally opposed a convention for this reason. In his 1983 letter, Justice Warren Burger writes, “I have also repeatedly given my opinion that there is no effective way to limit or muzzle the actions of a Constitutional Convention. The convention could make its own rules and set its own agenda. Congress might try to limit the convention to one amendment or to one issue, but there is no way to assure that the convention would obey. After a convention is convened, it will be too late to stop the convention if we don’t like its agenda.”

    Of course, let’s address this long overdue area of mandating individual responsibility of the offender to the victim(s), but let’s also be responsible by observing the wisdom of keeping the solution closest to the problem.

  3. Amend the Constitution to establish statute law? A bad idea. Bill Montgomery ought to know that the amendment process was provided by the Founders as a means to correct possible flaws and oversights in the Constitution. But just because someone like Montgomery pines to get his own pet legislation enacted that has more teeth than other’s doesn’t justify tinkering with the fundamental framework of our legal system. If it ain’t broke, you don’t have to fix it.
    Besides, if the idea is to make a law extra powerful by anointing it with the mantle of “AMENDMENT,” how come Prohibition was ignored nationwide from Day One?
    No, Bill, Arizona can mess all it wants with local law, but when it comes to degrading the federal Constitution to imagine there are now sacred categories like Victim Rights and Disadvantaged Rights and Minority Rights and Gambler Rights and Animal Rights and Car-Owners-Who-Get-Ripped-Off-By-Unscrupulous-Garages Rights, etc., let’s tread gingerly, please.

  4. Arizona’s justice system. No presumption of innocence for the accused. Where is the “presumption of innocence” for the accused when a devious person uses “victim’s rights” to sue for money, have their legal fees paid for (controlled under the DA’s office / County Attorney) and get free housing and more?

    Where is the oversight and accountability of the “Victim’s Rights” division under the control of the DA/County Attorney? The MCAO has a well established pattern of injustice for the accused. Audit the MCAO and their victim’s rights rather than grandstanding in Washington DC on the taxpayers’ dime!

    Arizona’s criminal justice system is broken. They should be the last changing laws in Washington DC.

    Where’s Montgomery on investigating the over 200,000 FELONY CASES under Thomas / Aubuchon — who were disbarred for abuse of power — for their victims who were falsely accused, wrongfully convicted, wrongfully imprisoned, over-charged, and over-sentenced? If the MCAO DA “troika” could falsely accuse judges, elected officials, lawyers then what does one think they did to the “ordinary” people in Arizona. Montgomery has chosen to ignore this and slammed the lid on the MCAO Pandora’s Box. Spending time in Washington DC is wasting our taxpayers’ $$$’s.

  5. Concerned: “When a deal was cut letting the killer avoid the death penalty by pleading guilty to second-degree murder, Gillis was not present, nor was he allowed to speak at sentencing.”

    Did they ask the judge to be present? Were they denied? The story doesn’t answer those crucial questions does it? No judge would deny something like that. If a person wants to speak at a trial victim or otherwise all they have to do is speak with the prosecutor and let them know. Did they do that or did they sit like viewers at a movie theater? No criminal proceeding is held in secret. If you weren’t there it’s because you weren’t paying attention to the proceedings or you were too lazy to get your *** to the court. We need a law for your inadequacies? I think not!

    “Every crime victim in the United States should be guaranteed the right to be present, the right to be treated with dignity and respect and the right to be heard.”

    A criminal trial is public proceeding. No one is denied the right to be there or to speak. So what’s the need for this law?

    “Many states already recognize victims’ rights and a federal amendment could undermine them, said Robert Mosteller, a University of North Carolina law professor.”

    And so does Arizona with its current victim’s rights law. So what’s really going on here? The reason for a trial instead of a lynching is so that cooler heads will prevail, so that justice will prevail instead of revenge. Could it be that revenge is what is really sought for here?”

  6. Where’s the oversight and accountability in the Victim’s Rights division, sitting in the Maricopa County Attorney’s office? Who’s investigating for abuse of the Victim’s Rights division? Those running there first get money and everything paid for.

    During ex-Maricopa County Attorney / DA, disbarred Andrew Thomas reign, he would stand before the TV camera along with Michele Johnson, Victim’s Rights lead advocate, and solicit the public for child molest cases, saying they had $5,000-$20,000 to give to people who reported child molesters. Incentive to take down ex-spouses, old boy/girl friends, etc.? Where was the money coming from? This demands investigation.

    Much like the bounty paid for those who reported “terrorists”, in the Iraq war, many who are innocent and have been sitting for years, uncharged in Guantanamo?

  7. Who’s representing these victims in Arizona’s mass incarceration of its people?

    ICE Detainee Dies at Eloy Facility
    from Tri-valleyCentral.com

    Posted: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 9:29 am

    PHOENIX (AP) — Federal authorities say a Guatemalan woman in custody at the Eloy Detention Center has died from an apparent suicide.

    U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced Tuesday that 24-year-old Elsa Guadalupe-Gonzales was found hanging in her cell Sunday evening by another detainee.

    They say detention facility staff called 911 and emergency medical technicians responded to the scene, but were unable to revive her.

    Authorities say Guadalupe-Gonzales was arrested for allegedly being in the country illegally. She had been detained since March 20 as she awaiting immigration hearings.

    They say she was taken into custody March 18 by U.S. Border Patrol near Nogales, Ariz.

    While at the detention center, ICE officials say Guadalupe-Gonzales received two routine medical screenings, but didn’t seek any medical or mental health treatment.

  8. From Arizona Prison Watch: “So much work is being done in this state organizing people for migrant justice, that I seldom focus on detention facilities and the despair and violence behind those bars. Tonight I must, though, as a 24-year old woman has hung herself at a private prison run for ICE in Eloy, AZ – a classic southwest prison town, pretty much owned and ruled by Corrections Corporation of America. The facility she died at was the Eloy Detention Center, which is one run by CCA.”

    “That facility was featured in this article by the AZ Republic in 2009. Things haven’t improved much there, I don’t think. Here is a PDF print out of all ICE detainee deaths from 2003 – Dec 2012, so you can see for yourself the history.”

    My condolences go out to Elsa’s family and her community.

    Arizonans were already planning to protest CCA in Tucson this month: if migrant justice matters to you, please join us.

    Also, if you care about what happned to this woman, know that there are plenty more people in her shoes you can still help. Sign up with PUENTE and stay tuned for their announcements and direct actions. Sign this petition, please, to free the victims of Arpaio’s latest raid. And demand of your congressmen and communities an end to migrant detention NOW.

    Rally at ICE in Phoenix to stop detention and deportations…
    Winter, 2013

  9. this discussion has gone so far off topic it be time to clos the thread.

  10. i.e. “Arapahoe County Attorney George Brauchler should have exercised prosecutorial discretion by accepting the offer of life in prison. He noted that he had personally spoken with 60 family members and his office reached out to hundreds of survivors. The (Arapahoe, CO) prosecutors in this (Holmes) case made the wrong decision.”

    “The whole point of the legal system is to prevent private vengence and entrust decisions about punishment to judges, juries and prosecutors whose highest duty is to the law — not to crime victims or their families.”

    Arizona has an unbalanced justice system when Victims’ Rights, controlled by the prosecutors, tips the balance of the justice system against the accused.

  11. Caesar, Why should the thread me closed when public dialog is needed.

    MCAO Montgomery has no business wasting taxpayers’ $$$ grandstanding in Washington DC, when he should be reforming Arizona’s broken criminal justice system that could save taxpayers’ hundreds of millions of wasted $$$’s and also saving innocent lives of men, women and children who lived have been destroyed by laws tipped in the favor of prosecutors against the people.

  12. correction (need edit button): Caesar, Why should the thread be closed when public dialog is needed.

    MCAO Montgomery has no business wasting taxpayers’ $$$ grandstanding in Washington DC, when he should be reforming Arizona’s broken criminal justice system that could save taxpayers’ hundreds of millions of wasted $$$’s and also saving innocent lives of men, women and children who lived have been destroyed by laws tipped in the favor of prosecutors against the people.

  13. As long as the police and prosecutors are allowed to lie, there should be NO Victims’ Rights, when controlled by the County Attorneys’ offices and the police department advocacy centers. Both there to protect themselves and drive their agendas and numbers = an industry for $$$’s. Wake up folks!

  14. 1. Many law professors have argued that a Constitutional Convention cannot be limited to a single issue.
    2 Once a Convention is called it would be sovereign; not answerable to anyone or previous rules.
    3. Our Constitution allows maximum freedom with controls on the power of the federal government. Victims rights is a state issue.
    and
    4. The federal government is our biggest problem because of overstepping their bounds…so no Constitutional Covention…just elect people of knowledge about the Constitution and the powers of the state.

  15. I think Blewster is right. Therefore it is clear that Montgomery is using this fabricated issue to gin up his campaign for the governorship.
    Besides, in all his lawyerish experience he cannot even come up with a viable definition of a “victim!” After all, I’M a victim of his government’s endless pandering and annoying and denying and its petty larceny of rights. We are all being victimized by the overreaching authoritarianism of government, the kind that Bill Montgomery wants to unleash under the guise of constitutional amendments.
    Maybe what we really need is a constitutional amendment to protect ourselves from self-serving egomaniacal political stooges.

  16. D.Mossberg, Your well-informed comment is spot-on! … “We are ll being victimized by the overreaching authoritarianism of government, the kind that MCAO Bill Montgomery wants to unleash under the guise of Constitutional amendments.”

    We do need a Constitutional amendment to protect ourselves from self-serving egomaniacal political stooges that drive Arizona laws and policy — now what to be heard in Washington DC? They could care less about Arizona in their quest for the national stage. They need to fix Arizona’s broken criminal justice system — in their own back yard.

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