by jeff oakes
The history of the modern Criminal Justice system has not been without complaint or flaw. Beginning in the 1970s,America, and many industrial nations began looking at ancient societies and the methods these used to satisfy a unique problem that stems from the way the system processes criminals. Even though the system began to process more individuals, satisfaction with police remained low. This occurred because although criminals were apprehended and sentenced, the system did nothing to alleviate the suffering caused by the crime/criminal. ‘Son of Sam’ laws passed and these were designed to reduce some of the suffering of victims by eliminating the profits made by the criminal from the crime through book and media sales (Schmalleger, PhD., Hall, J.D., ED.D., & Dolatowski, J.D., 2010).
In addition, numerous private, and public organizations have arisen to assist victims of crime in coping with the often devastating effects of the crime. Many are organized to assist such persons with the often cumbersome processes required in obtaining assistance, such as in monetary claims, which are strictly controlled (Schmalleger, PhD., Hall, J.D., ED.D., & Dolatowski, J.D., 2010).
However, even with the accomplishments in this area in the last 30 years, there remain certain drawbacks and problems. For instance, at least one researcher has found that the increase of victimization that society appears to be experiencing has the undesired effect of creating the very climate for victimization to occur. If so this means that the methods used to reduce the harmful effects of victimization may be contributing to that very effect nationwide. Although this study focused on England, the results should be similar in America for the laws adopted by that nation are very similar to those in theU.S.(Walklate, 2009).
It could be that although well-intended, the current laws may be doing greater harm to the Criminal Justice system and society than is desirable. A look at the way these laws affect the various players in the Criminal Justice system may be helpful. To this end, look at the effects on the Prosecutor’s office, the Defense Attorney, the Criminal, and the Victim.
The Prosecutor has the difficult task of finding the truth and sometimes that truth is very ugly. In times past, the Prosecutor would simply enter court, fight for the facts in the case, and hope for a favorable outcome. However with the advent of victim’s rights, the Prosecutor also has the task of helping the victim(s) prepare a statement to be read in the sentencing phase of the trial. These are becoming commonplace as more victims want to vent openly in court as a means of confronting the criminal, which is therapeutic in overcoming fears and apprehensions these may have as an after effect of the crime (Schmalleger, PhD., Hall, J.D., ED.D., & Dolatowski, J.D., 2010). In keeping with this, the Prosecutor may at times seek methods of restitution as alternative sanctions.
In addition, these statements can also have the effect of bringing a stiffer sentence on the criminal. Finally, in harmony with victim’s rights, the prosecutor must ensure that everything possible is done to mitigate the effects of the crime through sound prosecutorial practices. Every reopening of the case through appeal or other means has the effect of psychologically reopening new wounds in the victims.
The Defense Attorney
The effect on the Defense Attorney by the new laws regarding victim’s rights is immediate, for he represents the defendant, the suspected criminal. He is affected by more stringent rules about what he can and cannot say in open court as well as preparing his client for the sentencing phase when the victim(s) will confront this client. In addition, as a human being, it cannot be easy for an attorney to represent someone to the best of his ability, hearing one side of the story from the client and have to sit and hear the damage done by the crime. This can have a discouraging effect on a Defense Attorney and potentially impact future cases.
This is because the Defense Attorney has an obligation to mitigate the effects of a statement prior to ever hearing it. This can make an already difficult job more difficult.
Some hope that in the sentencing phase of the case the criminal will be swayed by the victim(s) statements and perhaps be moved to remorse for the crime. If this occurs, the there is always the potential for rehabilitation and change in the person. This would be the ideal situation. However, those who implemented these programs did not do so for this reason. The single greatest impact on the criminal who has a victim read a statement prior to sentencing is that the juries have a tendency to impose harsher sentences, more prison time and higher monetary penalties. This is a perfectly acceptable outcome to most in society for there is a growing belief that nothing seems to make an impact in crime rates, so it is simply better to keep prisoners locked away for as long as possible (Walklate, 2009)
Finally, victim’s rights laws and programs were developed with the victim in mind. The idea was to return to a system whereby the victim(s) of a crime could reap some measure of closure and relief from the criminal. In some ancient societies, victims of crime and their families were responsible for any penalties and punishments inflicted on the criminal and this tended to bring relief to the victims so that their lives could return to some semblance of normal. The intent with these laws is to provide at least some measure of this same relief (Schmalleger, PhD., Hall, J.D., ED.D., & Dolatowski, J.D., 2010).
However, an unintended consequence of these attempts appears to be an increased attitude of victimization among society in general. Increasing numbers of people report feeling unsafe and victimized even though crime rates are in decline and victim rights are firmly entrenched in the Criminal Justice system. For some reason, the turn to victim’s rights appears to be falling short of the ideal.
Victimization laws have altered definitely the way various players in the Criminal Justice system are affected. Whereas the above effects demonstrate this idea soundly, the question of if these laws are to have a negative impact on overall society will require a deeper look into how each is impacted by these laws and how these affect society. This will require complete studies to determine whether victimization laws are here to stay as is or if some modifications to this ancient, yet novel approach to satisfying the needs of victims of crime are needed. Either way, there can be no doubt that society must find a way to continue punishing crime while simultaneously healing victims.
One problem associated with victim’s right legislation is that it omits one key element of the ancient method for reaping justice, namely, direct involvement by the victim, if possible, or the victim’s immediate family. In times past, the criminal may be held by force as the victim beat the criminal by hand. Violent perhaps, but healing in the process. The current system still prevents direct retaliation by victims and this could be the very thing missing. Research and testing should proceed any attempts to implement such practices.
Original Post – has more links to relevant articles.