DA Named Chairman Of Victims’ Rights Constitutional Amendment Committee

San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos has been selected by the National District Attorneys Association to serve as chairman of a nationwide committee dedicated to working with district attorneys, public safety leaders and victims’ rights advocates to draft and support a United States Constitutional amendment for victims’ rights.
“I am honored to represent San Bernardino County on this important issue and to be entrusted by my colleagues from across the nation,” Ramos said. “My entire career as district attorney has been based on holding criminals accountable and fighting for victims and their families. Right now, as our nation grapples with prison reform and the rights of prisoners, I keep asking myself, ‘What about the victims? What about their families having to deal with a lifetime of pain?’ We need to hear their voices, and those voices need to be protected in all of this discussion.”
Constitutional scholars and political scientists say there is little near-term prospect for such an amendment to be put into place at the federal level and that there are both legal and Constitutional problems with the concept altogether. Moreover, some pro-law enforcement groups believe that even if such an amendment were to pass Constitutional muster, its application, depending on its final form, might prove more problematic than helpful for prosecutors.
Victims’ rights amendments have been included as provisions in some states’ constitutions, and the concept has been proposed for other states, and such an amendment has been proposed for inclusion in the United States Constitution. So-called victims’ rights provisions vary from state to state, with certain similarities. The precise format for the proposed federal amendment has not yet been presented publicly.
One roadblock to a national victims’ rights amendment consists of the need, as is the case of any Constitutional amendment, for the language of the amendment to garner first approval by both the House of Representatives and the Senate and to thereafter gain ratification of 38 of the United States’ 50 state legislatures. Another obstruction is that elements of such an amendment may come in conflict with other Constitutional amendments, such as the Fifth Amendment, Sixth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment. Additionally, typical states’ victims’ rights amendments entail requirements that prosecutors stay in touch with the victims and their families throughout a prosecution, and follow up with similar contact post-conviction to advise them of developments relating to the case, such as parole hearings, applications for pardons or other forms of executive clemency or relief, or anything impacting the individual convicted. Some prosecutors consider these requirements to be an undue burden upon them and ones that may compromise, or detract from their ability to carry out, their basic prosecutorial function.
To overcome these roadblocks, Ramos indicated he will be working with other members of the law and justice community and former Oklahoma state senator Brooks Douglass. Douglass is a champion of victims’ rights at least partially as an outgrown of his own experience. In 1979, his parents were murdered in a brutal home invasion. Douglass and his sister were also shot and left to die, but they both survived.
Douglass maintains the U.S. Constitution should be amended with protections for victims’ rights.
“In the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution there are 23 enumerated rights for the accused,” Douglass said. “The problem is there are no rights specified for victims.”
The effort to enhance the legal status of victims and tweak the law to layer in what some consider to be “protections” to those who are not themselves the target of a criminal prosecution is fraught with complication, and carries with it the potential of eroding existing Constitutional protections and other rights enjoyed by citizens.
In San Bernardino County, previous efforts at “victim support” and “victim/witness support” have gone astray and led to miscarriages of justice, as both paid and volunteer members of the district attorney’s division intended to augment the office’s prosecutorial function by offering encouragement, protection and both physical and psychological support to victims and witnesses called upon to testify in criminal proceedings have on occasion engaged in action that was tantamount to suborning perjury against the accused.
One such matter was the case of Robert Gruce, who was charged with rape and was subsequently persuaded to enter a guilty plea wholly on the strength of the rape victim’s testimony against him. Immediately thereafter, the victim who was the only witness against Gruce recanted that testimony, declaring that Gruce was not her assailant and that she had been pressured by witness support personnel to testify against him. She said that she was instructed to identify Gruce as the man who raped her and to avoid looking at him while she was on the witness stand.
On April 16, 2015, an amendment to the Constitution of the United States protecting the rights of crime victims, known as House Joint Resolution 45, was proposed. The amendment was supported by Douglass and several other lawmakers and victims’ rights advocates. The bill failed to pass in the House.
“We intend to look at the existing language in current drafts and make any necessary changes before reintroducing a new proposed amendment,” Ramos said. “Once that happens, I look forward to working with our United States Senators and Representatives to protect and ensure the rights of victims,” said Ramos.
-Mark Gutglueck

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