The Victims’ Rights Movement

The context within which the CVHR operates

The Victims’ Rights Movement (Movement) is one that seeks to improve the treatment of victims in all aspects of the justice system be it in the criminal justice system, the civil justice system, or the immigration justice system.  The Movement spans almost 40 years  and is considered to have started with the seminal case of Linda R.S. v. Richard D., 410 U.S. 614 (1973).

The Linda R.S. case began as a claim for unpaid child support by a mother, on behalf of her child who was born out of wedlock.  By the time the case reached the United States Supreme Court the case became a question of whether prosecutorial authority could be challenged by a person who “is neither prosecuted nor threatened with prosecution.”  Specifically, the prosecutor in the Linda R.S. case refused to prosecute the father for non-payment of child support because the child had been born out of wedlock.  Therefore, the Supreme Court held that the prosecutor could not be compelled to prosecute, because the mother could not show a nexus between her interests in securing child support for her child and the prosecutor’s discretion to prosecute.

The Linda R.S. case was important for two reasons.  First, in its opinion, the Supreme Court stated that “a private citizen lacks a judicially cognizable interest in the prosecution or nonprosecution of another.”  Second, the opinion states that Congress could “enact statutes creating legal rights, the invasion of which creates standing, even though no injury would exist without the statute.”

The impact of the Linda R.S. case was widespread.  Essentially, the power to investigate and prosecute cases remained with criminal justice agencies.  Victims were considered little more than witnesses in the case, despite the very personal impact of the crime.  There are very good reasons to vest this power to investigate and prosecute within the objective discretion of the federal or state government.  However, the Linda R.S. case closed all avenues for redress where victims were looking for nothing more than justice.

Since the handing down of the Supreme Court’s opinion in the Linda R.S. case, most states have incorporated crime-victim rights provisions into their constitutions and have enacted specific and definable crime-victim rights statutes.  The federal system too has enacted important legislation granting victims specific rights.

However, the challenge today is one of enforcement.  Rights are only as good as they are enforceable.  This is the next evolution in the victims’ rights movement and the CVHR has chosen to participate, as a member of the justice community, in enforcing those rights.

For the CVHR, the justice process generally is about re-establishing balance.  Balance is created by giving back what was lost to the victim while ensuring that the justice process, be it criminal, immigration, and/or civil, comports with the best traditions of law: openness, fairness, due process, and equality for all.

Although much has been accomplished by way of establishing cognizable rights, much more must be done to ensure access to justice.  In advocating to making the victim as whole as possible, it is the CVHR’s ideal to ensure that access.