The Crime Victim's Expanding Role in a System of Public Prosecution: A Response to the Critics of the Crime Victims' Rights Act
21 Pages Posted: 28 Nov 2012 Last revised: 5 Jun 2013
Date Written: 2010
The American criminal justice system is often envisioned as one in which public prosecutors pursue public prosecutions on behalf of the public — leaving no room for crime victims‘ involvement. However, state and federal statutes and state constitutional amendments have challenged this vision. Perhaps the best example of such a challenge comes from the Crime Victims‘ Rights Act ("CVRA"), a federal statute passed by Congress in 2004 that guarantees victims a series of rights in federal criminal proceedings.
Although the CVRA has received broad bipartisan support, it also has its critics. One recent example of such criticism comes from Danielle Levine‘s thoughtful piece, published in the Northwestern University Law Review, entitled "Public Wrongs and Private Rights: Limiting the Victim‘s Role in a System of Public Prosecution." In her article, Levine advances both a procedural and substantive challenge to the rights granted to crime victims by the CVRA. First, in her procedural challenge — a position that a minority of federal circuit courts have adopted — Levine argues that victims should be able to challenge denials of their rights by district courts only in the rare circumstance of a "clear and indisputable" error. From a substantive perspective, Levine contends that giving victims ordinary appellate review when their rights are denied would interfere with the discretion that American prosecutors regularly exercise in criminal cases, and could even "threaten the fair and just adjudication of a criminal case."
These arguments are typical of attacks on the CVRA. In this brief rejoinder, we respond to both of Levine‘s claims — a response that we hope will illustrate more generally how attacks on crime victims‘ rights are misguided. Part I begins by providing a quick review of the CVRA and the charges advanced by its critics. Part II then turns to the question of the appropriate standard of review for crime victims‘ appeals brought under the CVRA. In contrast to the position staked out by its critics, including Levine, crime victims should receive ordinary appellate review, because such review is both consistent with Congressional intent and, more importantly, such review is dictated by common sense. Finally, Part III addresses the substantive argument that rights granted to crime victims may somehow interfere with the administration of justice. Part IV concludes that victims‘ rights do not impair the just adjudication of criminal cases, but rather improve it.
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