Victims Bill of Rights Amendments: Harmful to Defendants?
There have been multiple news articles over the last month about a bill signed into law by Governor Chris Christie that would aid crime victims. What does this law mean for criminal defendants?
Christie signed amendments to the New Jersey Crime Victims Bill of Rights on August 7, 2012, after the amendments were debated for four years.
First, the specifics of the law. Changes include:
- Allowing victims’ attorneys (and not just prosecutors) to raise motions in court on behalf of the victims
- Allowing murder victims’ families to use photographs displaying the deceased’s image in court during sentencing and allowing families to wear buttons in court displaying the deceased’s image
- Allowing prosecutors to consider victims’ statements in plea bargaining
- Giving victims the opportunity to consult with prosecutors before plea negotiations are complete and requiring prosecutors to tell judges of the victims’ positions on issues related to plea deals
- Giving victims access to additional medical help
- Allowing victims to be present in open court proceedings
- Requiring that victims remain free from intimidation, harassment and abuse
These are big changes, especially for those accused of murder, who must now overcome the potential prejudice that a picture may cause during sentencing statements.
The first bullet point above is also significant in all crime cases. Victims will now be able to raise motions through their personal attorneys, and will not need to rely on prosecutors to bring those motions. This could not only hinder the prosecutor’s plan for a case – it could also make things more difficult for defendants and their attorneys.
The primary goal of the amendments was to make the criminal justice process better for crime victims. Some of the amendments do just that and are very positive changes. Others, however, may impact the very justice system itself, potentially causing defendants – especially innocent defendants – the kind of harm that the system is meant to protect against.
Only time will tell how the new laws will affect victims, defendants, and the court process.
Source: NorthJersey.com, “Christie signs law aiding crime victims,” Karen Sudol, Aug. 7, 2012.