February 23, 2000
CRIME VICTIMS' CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS
By: Sandra Norman-Eady, Senior Attorney
You wanted a legislative history of the crime victims' constitutional rights amendment.
In 1996 the General Assembly passed sSJ 13 (Resolution Proposing a Constitutional Amendment Concerning the Rights of Victims of Crime) by a sufficient number to require its place on the ballot for the November 5, 1996 general election. A majority of the electors approved it; thus, it now appears as Article 29 of the Connecticut Constitution.
During the 1996 legislative session, there were two identical resolutions proposing victims' rights constitutional amendments: sSJ 13 that passed and sSJ 4 that did not. SSJ 13 was referred to the Government Administration and Elections (GAE) Committee and sSJ 4 was referred to the Judiciary Committee. Both committees held public hearings. No one testified on the resolution at the GAE Committee's March 4, 1996 public hearing but six people, including several members from Survivors of Homicide, testified in favor of the resolution at Judiciary's March 1, 1996 hearing. Senators Upson and Freedman submitted written testimony but did not testify.
The Judiciary Committee voted sSJ 4 out of committee but it died in the Senate. The GAE Committee referred sSJ 13, without a vote, to the Judiciary Committee. Judiciary voted it out of committee to the Senate. The Senate amended it, passed it unanimously, and referred it to the House for consideration. The House adopted the Senate amendment, passed its own amendment, and then passed the resolution by a vote of 130 to16, with four members absent. The House referred the newly amended resolution back to the Senate, which approved it unanimously on May 1, 1996.
We have attached OLR Report 97-R-0366, which summarizes the victims' right amendment.
JUDICIARY COMMITTEE PUBLIC HEARING ON sSJ 4
Six people testified before the Judiciary Committee in support of the resolution for a constitutional amendment. They were John Armstrong, Department of Correction commissioner; Donald Downs, Office of Policy and Management deputy secretary; Bobby D'Andrea, attorney; Samuel Reiger, Waterbury physician and member of Survivors of Homicide; Diane Smitnick, president of Survivors of Homicide; and John Cluny, member of Survivors of Homicide. No on testified against it.
Most of them testified about the need for victims to be respected and treated with dignity. Following are hearing excerpts:
John Armstrong testified that the resolution “solidifies the general consensus of Connecticut citizens that victim rights must be recognized and acknowledged through the administration of justice.” He also testified that it “gives a voice to crime victims.”
Bobby D'Andrea testified that the criminal justice system shows a lack of respect and dignity to crime victims. “The resolution elevates victims' rights and provides safeguards and remedies for victims where none currently exist.” “Twenty-one states have similar amendments.”
Diane Smitnick testified that the “scales of criminal justice tips in favor of defendants. Victims are further victimized by the system.”
On April 18, 1996, the Senate debated sSJ 13. Senator Tim Upson brought out the resolution, which received bi-partisan support, and offered Senate Amendment “A.” Senate “A” requires victims to be treated fairly and with respect in every way, instead of only where their dignity and privacy were concerned; required the General Assembly to enforce the resolution; and eliminated a provision in the original resolution that specified that it did not create a cause of action against any court, state, or political subdivision officer or employee.
Twelve senators spoke in favor of the resolution as amended. They were Senators Kevin Sullivan, Melody Peters, Edith Prague, Tom Bozek, John Kissel, Eileen Daily, Billy Ciotto, Tom Gaffey, Joe Crisco, Martin Looney, Brian McDermott, and Judy Freedman.
Although supportive of the resolution, Senator Looney cautioned that it “may not accomplish all of the things that we would like in an ideal world…and that in fact it may create some problems down the road…” According to Senator Looney, “ the interests created by the amendment…directly conflicts with those of the defendant [in a criminal case] and fashioning a remedy for one without affecting the rights of the other would be extremely difficult.” For example, he pointed out that a defendant's right to a speedy trial might conflict with a victim's right to notice.
Senator Looney also pointed out (1) that a court could require the state to compensate a victim who was not “treated with fairness and respect throughout the criminal process” as the resolution requires, (2) that it might prove difficult to fashion a remedy that would compensate a victim who was not afforded the “right to be heard or notified of a hearing,” (3) problems that might arise when someone is declared and protected as a “victim” before a verdict is entered.
The Senate voted unanimously to pass the resolution as amended by Senate “A” and referred it to the House.
HOUSE DEBATE ON sSJ 13
Representative Michael Lawlor brought the resolution out in the House on April 25, 1996 and offered House “A,” which gave crime victims the right to object to or support a plea agreement and the right to address the court before it accepts such an agreement. After a lengthy debate involving Representatives Lawlor, Radcliff, Tercyak, Scalettar, Eberle, Farr, and Kirkley-Bey, the amendment passed. Representatives Lawlor, Ward, and Godfrey spoke in support of the amended resolution. All highlighted the need to involve and protect victims in the criminal process. Representative Lawlor also pointed out that 20 states had similar constitutional amendments and four additional states would have amendments on their ballots during the general election.
Representative Tulisano opposed the resolution. He argued that victims' rights are included in the general statutes, which are easier than the constitution to amend. He further argued that the constitution was designed to protect citizens from governmental abuse not to guarantee the type of rights included in the resolution.
The House passed the resolution with Senate “A” and House “A” on April 25, 1996. The vote was 130 yea, 16 nay, and four absent. The House referred the resolution to the Senate, which passed it unanimously on May 1, 1996.