Protecting the rights of those accused of serious crimes

Certain criminal charges come with a host of emotions. The victim, the accused, and even the public may find it hard to discern facts and maintain calm in the face of serious charges. There has been a lot of news lately regarding domestic violence and its prevention, for example. It is an admirable goal to reduce or eliminate domestic violence. However, being accused of domestic violence and being guilty of domestic assault or other violent crime are two different things. In the struggle for safer homes and communities, it can be easy to overlook individual rights. It can be even harder for the public to objectively weigh guilt or innocence when the defendant is accused of a sex crime.

The criminal justice system is a balancing act that attempts to weigh the interests of the state, public safety, the victim and those accused of a crime. Illinois residents accused of a crime have rights, along with the victim. It can be easy for the public to assume the guilt of a person charged, but this is not always the case, a fact that should not be overlooked in the search for justice.

Constitutional Amendment proposed

Illinois has put a spotlight on the intersection of the rights of victims and defendants due to a constitutional amendment on the ballot this year. On November 4, 2014, Illinois will vote on the Crime Victims' Bill of Rights, an amendment that would expand on the existing rights of crime victims. Also called Marsy's Law, named for a similar amendment passed in California in 2008, it is still unclear whether voters will choose to alter the state's constitution.

Among its provisions, the amendment proposes to guarantee that a victim or victim's family would have the right to:

  • Be free from harassment, intimidation and abuse throughout the criminal trial process
  • Notice regarding hearings before a court ruling on whether the court can access the victim's records
  • Be heard at any post-arraignment court proceeding involving a release decision, plea bargain or sentencing
  • Be considered when determining bail and conditions of release after arrest and conviction of the defendant

Advocates of the amendment believe that victims are not always receiving their rights in court, and that these rights deserve to be enforced. Opponents to the amendment argue that the ballot measure would slow trials, and that victims already have significant rights in criminal proceedings regardless of the amendment. Others question whether the measure would violate certain due process rights for criminal defendants.

Many may still be undecided, or prefer an alternate way to support victims' rights. The Illinois State Bar Association opposes the measure, for example, believing that victims' rights should be addressed through legislation, not constitutional amendment.

Criminal defense and civil rights

Voters have the right to decide this important legal issue. Regardless of the outcome, however, there will always be a fine line that must be walked in the criminal justice system between seeking justice, protecting victims, and ensuring that all people have the right to a fair and impartial trial.

If you have been charged with a crime in Illinois, contact the experienced criminal defense attorney Jessica Koester to discuss your legal options and protect your constitutional rights throughout the process.