Washington Victims of violent crime, too often an afterthought in the courts, deserve a constitutional amendment guaranteeing their rights, President Bush said Tuesday.
"The protection of victims' rights is one of those rare instances when amending the Constitution is the right thing to do," he said, endorsing a proposal introduced Monday in the Senate by Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
If approved by a two-thirds majority of the House and Senate, and then ratified by at least 38 of the 50 states, the amendment would declare:
"The rights of victims of violent crime, being capable of protection without denying the constitutional rights of those accused of victimizing them, are hereby established and shall not be denied by any state or the United States."
It would require that victims be notified of public court proceedings, allow victims to testify in sentencing and parole hearings about their experiences, and require courts to consider claims of restitution for victims.
In 2000, Americans were victimized in more than 6 million violent crimes. "Behind each of these numbers is a terrible trauma, a story of suffering and a story of lost security. Yet the needs of victims are often an afterthought in our criminal justice system," Bush said at the Justice Department.
"It's not just, it's not fair, and it must change."
The proposed amendment would not allow for new criminal trials or specific claims for damages. And courts would have the ability to restrict victims' rights if they substantially conflicted with public safety or the administration of justice.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a similar proposal last year but threats of a filibuster kept the full Senate from voting on it.
Opponents, led by Democrat Patrick Leahy, now chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, argued that a federal statute would be the proper place to address victims' rights, not the Constitution.