Saturday, May 12, 2007

Do Victims of Crime Have A Right To A Conviction?

Question Of the Week Posted by olvlzl.
Last week NPR had on a segment about victims rights and about how some states are allowing increasing participation by victims in criminal trials. There has been increasing talk around the country of allowing victims to have lawyers represent them even in the part of the trial that determines guilt. Some people are saying that this, in effect, means that a defendant in a criminal trial not only has one but two prosecutions against them during the trial.

But what are the rights of a victim of a crime? Certainly their needs for security and health care are rights as is their right to have their evidence taken seriously. Crime victims have had their rights violated and what they have to say about that matters. The media, and especially the cabloid view seems to be that victims have a right to a conviction and punishment, or what else explains the presence of Nancy Grace? Everything about the American media is entertainment on the cheap with the most cliched plot lines horrific novelty and hokey melodrama all the better to provide advertisers with an audience.

Is there a right to a conviction? Isn’t the conviction of an innocent person a violation of the rights of the victim of a crime? Much as they might believe in the guilt of the accused and as much as they want to see them punished, shouldn’t the overriding presumption be that if they get the wrong guy, THEY’VE GOT THE WRONG GUY? The People, presumably represented by the state prosecution are also presented just about every time as deserving a conviction. The prosecutors seem to think so. And if there is evidence that the wrong person is sitting in jail or death row there seems to be a professional code to fight to the last piece of paper to keep it out of consideration.

Is there a right to a conviction in any given criminal trial? Since before there is a conviction the accused is held to have the right to be presumed innocent, how can there be a right to have a conviction before hand? Who possesses that right before a conviction? Where does it go if there is an acquittal? Isn’t it really a matter of the necessity to prevent further crimes, to rehabilitate offenders, to provide some form of restitution to the victims of crime from THE PERSON WHO ACTUALLY COMMITTED THE CRIME?

Punishment of crimes are useful as a plot device in a TV drama and a tool for unscrupulous political operations. A justice system based in that kind of punishment might provide a satisfying catharsis but when that is the focus of a real trial and its aftermath, doesn’t it actually provide a good chance of depriving the accused, the victims and The People of their genuine rights?

Note: The last time I did a Question like this the response was wonderful. I’m thinking that it might be something I try every week. What do you think about that?