JEFFERSON CITY -At the eve of a crime victims memorial ceremony at the Missouri state Capitol, a federal act was reintroduced to the U.S. House on Thursday and advocates pushed for crime victim rights.
A subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary heard testimony Thursday from supporters of The Victims' Rights Amendment. The measure would give crime victims a constitutional right to be notified for sentencing of the crime, to attend any court proceedings for that crime, and to speak at the proceedings about the crime they experienced according the National Organization for Victim Assistance.
Kristy Dyroff, spokeswoman for the National Organization for Victim Assistance, told MDN reporters in an interview on Thursday that the U.S. Constitution gives criminal defendants rights but doesn't mention any rights for the victims of those crimes.
"There are...23 separate rights that are asserted in the constitution for criminal defendants and there are none for crime victims," Dyroff said.
Although supportive of a federal crime victims act, a Missouri state representative said most states already grant the rights that the act includes. Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, said he thinks all states practice giving crime victims' rights even if those rights aren't specified in the state's constitution.
Roorda, a 17-year veteran of law enforcement, said he didn't think any states banned victims from criminal court hearings. He said although he thinks most states already give crime victims' rights, the issue is important enough that it should be in the U.S. Constitution.
"These are the people who often are voiceless in the system," Roorda said.
There are benefits that all states participate in when it comes to crime victims. Dan Eddy, the executive director of the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards, said all 50 states currently have compensation programs to financially help the victims of violent crimes.
Eddy said these programs are funded from the court fines against the criminal defendants. He also said these compensation programs help fund the victims' medical, counseling, and funeral bills as well as lost wages caused from a crime.
"We know that victims suffer physical injury and emotional trauma, but many also have financial needs that relate to the recovery from violent crime," Eddy said.
Eddy said on average, all the state compensation programs collectively provide about $500 million in funding for about 200,000 crime victims every year. Missouri provided over $5 million to 1,051 crime victims in 2012 according to the Missouri Department of Public Safety.
A ceremony to honor crime victims will be held at the Capitol Friday as part of the national Crime Victims' Rights Week.
Marc Peoples, program director of the Missouri Crime Victim Services Unit, said the ceremony is meant to let victims know that Missouri understands the difficult situation they have been put in. He said the main purpose of the national week is tell people "don't forget about the victim when crime happens."
The crime victims ceremony will take place on the south Capitol lawn Friday at 1 p.m.