Crime Victims’ Rights
Former Kansas Attorney General Robert Stephan, who championed crime victims’ rights in Kansas, wrote the following speech and had planned to give it at the 2017 Kansas Crime Victims Conference but did not get the chance due to illness.
By Robert T. Stephan, Kansas Attorney General, 1979 – 1995
Robert Stephan Writing Part 2: Crime Victims’ Rights
In most instances when a defendant in a criminal case where violence is involved is arrested, the victim will say that he or she looks forward to closure. The victim honestly believes that if the perpetrator is convicted they (the victim) can put the matter at rest and put the horrible experience behind them. In almost every instance they will find that there is no such thing as complete closure. The experience is going to be a living nightmare for the rest of their life. There is no way to do away with the memory of the injustice that was visited upon them.
I have lived the life of having been in a home with a father who was an alcoholic and when he was drunk, he would beat my mother into unconsciousness. For the past 80 years I have had nightmares reliving the violence. I have never had closure, and I doubt anyone who has experienced violent crime will ever have closure.
It is hard to believe anyone would oppose treating victims of crime with compassion and respect. When I proceeded to press for a victim’s rights constitutional amendment in Kansas, I was shocked this was not the case. I proceeded to form a Victims Rights Task Force in 1987 to begin the initiative for a constitutional amendment. It didn’t take long for opposition to raise its ugly head.
The president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers issued a press release stating, “By calling someone a victim of crime, you’re assuming guilt. The person may or may not be a victim. The defendant may be the victim. By letting someone sit in the courtroom, you’re saying the presumption of innocence is less important.”
What a ridiculous statement! Was she saying that the individual that said he or she was harmed should not be allowed to testify?
Even a Washington State Supreme Court Justice joined the ranks of those who believe that victims should not be a part of the judicial process.
In opposing victims’ rights amendments he said, “The purpose of the Constitution is to protect the individual against the government, and a victims’ rights amendment protects an individual against an individual. That’s not what the constitution is for.” Funny, I thought criminal statutes were there to define conduct and to help keep people safe.
I traveled to different parts of the state gathering support for a constitutional amendment and in 1989 the Kansas Legislature at my urging began passing victims’ rights legislation. The legislation included dramatic increases in funding for victim’s rights programs, a Victim’s Bill of Rights and a law that insures victims the right to be involved at all critical states of the criminal justice process.
In 1992 the Kansas legislature placed a Victims’ Rights Constitutional Amendment on the ballot. At that time only eight states had constitutional amendments. Today about 33 states are included in that list. In Kansas the amendment passed by more than 84% of the vote. The following states without constitution amendments include Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming. There are about 3 currently working on it: Georgia, Maine, and Kentucky. We should continue to promote state victims’ rights constitutional amendments until it is realized in all 50 states.
For more information about crime victims’ rights in Kansas, visit the Kansas State Government Attorney General’s Office website. For more information on crime victims’ rights, visit the National Crime Victim Law Institute website and the Marsy’s Law website.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call a domestic violence or sexual assault victim advocacy organization in Kansas near you or contact national resources that are available to you.