The Limits of Victims' Rights in a System of Public Prosecution
50 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2009
Date Written: April 20, 2009
The Crime Victims’ Rights Act (“CVRA”), enacted in 2004, potentially threatens our system of public prosecution enshrined in the Constitution. Although it does not confer party status to victims, the CVRA provides victims with expansive rights, which could often conflict with the interests of prosecutors and defendants. Most significantly, if a district court denies any of the victims’ participatory rights under the statute, the CVRA permits victims to petition the appellate court for a writ of mandamus to re-open a plea bargain or sentence. Consequently, given the expansive rights and remedies, victims theoretically have the ability to trump prosecutorial and judicial discretion regarding decisions made in a criminal case. Although the standard for granting a writ of mandamus is ordinarily very high, two circuits, the Second and the Ninth, have declined to use the traditional mandamus standard and have reviewed victims’ petitions for either an error of law or for an abuse of discretion. Using a more relaxed standard is problematic because victims’ interests may at times be opposed to those of the prosecutor, and for obvious reasons, are often at odds with those of the defendant. An appellate court reviewing a district court’s denial of a victim’s motion should apply the traditional mandamus standard of review because it promotes a narrow interpretation of the CRVA and respects prosecutorial and judicial discretion, which Congress explicitly built into the statute.
Keywords: victims rights, CVRA, mandamus, prosecutorial discretion
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