National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, April 22-28, 2007

By: Lee Kent Hempfling

As we begin the 27th observance of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, April 22-28, 2007, without equal protection for victims as guaranteed by our Constitution, it is a good time to pause, and a fitting time to reflect on what that fundamental right means. The Department of Justice says: “This year’s theme “Victims’ Rights: Every Victim. Every Time.” embodies the work of the individuals, networks and partnerships to forge a national commitment to help victims rebuild their lives.”

I wonder about any theme where victims might actually enjoy justice: every victim, every time.

Ever since 1868 the right to equal protection has been guaranteed in our Bill of Rights as the 14th Amendment, Section 1. “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

What more fundamental right can there be than equal protection of the laws? It is the last in order behind life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. That pesky ‘person’ thing has yet to be defined, which causes so much conflict with the privacy issue and commerce clause.

What more applicable method would there be to guarantee equal protection of the laws, than to view the most fundamental relationship in any conflict? The victim and the perpetrator.

Perpetrators are guaranteed equal protection under the laws. So are victims, but the relationship between perpetrator and victim does not exist in this country’s jurisprudence.

If it did, we might be having far less crime these days, and far more example for parents. But we would have to not ignore where that issue is already addressed.

An eye for an eye. No, that does not mean the words you read. It means what the word you read, are ordered to convey. It does not mean, for every thief you steal from him. It does not mean for every infraction you likewise become a perpetrator. It means there is an end to being a victim.

Families of slain loved ones know that time. They know there is no end to their pain, but there is an end to being the victim. That is when the perpetrator is sentenced to serve time proportional to the crime committed. The judicial system calls it justice, and since justice to them is served regardless of the price paid by the victim, circumstances not involved in the crime can, and are used to mitigate penalties.

That mitigation violates the 14th Amendment, Section 1. “any person” certainly includes victims; “equal protection of the laws” likewise includes victims. But not in our laws.

Equal protection simply means what is good for the goose is good for the gander, and if the gander gets the goose, then the goose must be afforded the ability to get the gander. Without that equal balance no court would be worth the wood it is surrounded by.

But in law, there is no such thing. Punishments do not fit the crimes.

One answer for that little problem (which politicians see as repeat offenders, higher crime and a revolving door system) is mandatory sentencing. That is wrong. The balance of equal protection requires the courts to visit the impact of equality and adjust it to fit the crime. Instead, some judges (not too many and probably far less in percentage than the equation of Diet Coke delivery man and missing cans) weigh the circumstances greater than the balance to the crime and the result is that revolving door and a total disrespect for the criminal justice system by the very people who have to face it day in and day out. On both sides.

When the scales of justice are balanced, the victim is no longer the victim. The victim becomes the vindicated and it is supposed to be that the perpetrator becomes the incarcerated. Tilt that toward the incarcerated and they’ll be back for another dose real soon. Tilt that back to equal and the victim’s rights week the Department of Justice wants to celebrate by patting themselves on the back for pretending to care about victims will be all smoke and mirrors and I’ll change my mind about the ‘who can you trust’ thing.

Because justice delayed is indeed justice denied, unless there is a greater justice (rule 8). But as Justice Anthony Kennedy said, the ‘jury is still out’.

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