61 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2020 Last revised: 2 Dec 2020
Date Written: May 1, 2020
In criminal contexts, a “victim” is typically defined as someone who has been harmed by a crime. Yet the word commonly appears in legal contexts that precede the adjudication of whether a crime has occurred. Each U.S. state guarantees “victims’ rights,” including many that apply pre-adjudication; ongoing “Marsy’s Law” efforts seek to expand and constitutionalize them nationwide. At trial, advocates, judges, and jury instructions employ this word even though the existence or not of crime (and thus of a crime victim) is a central question to be decided. This usage matters in part because of its possible consequences: it risks obscuring and weakening the defense side of our two-sided system. Changing the language is thus a reasonable reform. But the usage matters also because of the underlying impulses, assumptions, and realities that it reveals. An exploration of those helps to illuminate broader concerns that require systemic, rather than merely linguistic, change.
Keywords: Marsy’s Law, Abolition, Prison Abolition, Victims’ Rights
JEL Classification: K14, K41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation