Court Issues And Victims’ Rights Essay Samples
Diversity of Judges
In any courtroom in the United States, citizens under trial have a right to a jury of their peers. This jury is comprised of, and drawn from a pool that is representative of the community. Whereas the United States is diverse in many aspects, one of the areas it fails to meet this threshold is in the composition of its state judges (Alton & Ali, 2005). This diversity is important since it ties in with the promise to give justice in equal measure to all. Hence, on the bench, Americans are often confronted by a familiar site, that of a white male judge. This case is apparent, despite the diversity existent in law schools, and across the bars in different states all over the USA. Majority of legal disputes heard in the USA are determined in state courts (Hurwitz & Lanier, 2008). Thus, these courts have to preside over a diverse public. It is thus imperative that these courts be as diverse as the public that they serve. However, this has historically not been the case, with white males boasting an overwhelming representation when compared to other demographic groups (Alton & Ali, 2005). That said there have been various efforts instituted to address this imbalance. This paper looks at the efforts instituted by court administrators to address the diversity of judges, and the success or otherwise of these measures.
Another method that administrators have used to address the diversity problem is executive orders encouraging consideration of diversity. For instance in the states of Florida as well as New Mexico, the state laws have specific provisions, either in the state constitution or else as statutes, encouraging diversity. In New Mexico, the constitution stipulates that during the appointment of commissioners beyond a specific number, the appointments will be such that there is representation of diverse interests (Torres-Spelliscy, Chase, & Greenman, 2010). In Florida, the provision of diversity is far stronger. Here, the governor is mandated to ensure that the appointments to the nominating commission must reflect diversity. However, despite the existence of these provisions, diversity is still not reflected in the makeup of the bench in these states. This is a pointer that perhaps the policy is not as effective as it should be. Even in South Carolina where this method is the prevalent one, minority groups still struggle to obtain equal representation (Torres-Spelliscy, Chase, & Greenman, 2010).
Hence, it is evident that court administrators have a vital role to play in ensuring diversity. Through their various roles, they are charged with safeguarding this vital element of court constitution. This is important in order to guarantee victims a fair trial. However, these officers still have room for improvement as is evidenced by the limited success of their policies.
Victims’ Rights in Indiana
The place of a victim in the criminal justice system in the USA has shifted fundamentally in the recent past. This change has been occasioned by the concern about the minor role played by victims in the prosecution and the general court proceedings of the crimes they are charged with. Hence, in response to this, states have initiated various ways increasing sensitivity and response to these needs. This has seen the passage, in state legislatures, of different laws that grant more rights to victims in the administration of criminal justice. Indiana is one of the states that has passed such legislation, a process first initiated in 1996, and which has continued in subsequent years. This paper looks at the present state of victims’ rights in Indiana and assesses the impact of these laws on criminal proceedings including a description of a proposed change in the criminal court system.
The year 1996 was a landmark year in Indiana. This year marked the start of Indiana’s involvement in the debate over victims’ rights. This came about with the passage of the Indiana’s amendment to victims’ rights. In doing this, Indiana joined 25 other states, which had passed similar amendments to their constitutions (Giannini, 2001). Three years after this, in 1999, the General Assembly of Indiana passed legislation that aimed at enabling the amendment and furthering its purpose. These legislations were contained in the Indiana Code, specifically Section 35-40 (IC 35-40-5 Chapter 5. Victim Rights). The laws had the intent to define, to implement, to preserve, and to protect rights of victims, which would be in line with Article 1, and Section 13 of Indiana’s constitution, which affirmed the right of criminal victims, to be afforded treatment that is fair, dignified, and respectful throughout the entirety of the process. This is contained in IC 35-40-5-1 (IC 35-40-5 Chapter 5. Victim Rights). The victims also had a right to information about public hearings, and to appear in these hearings. The victims could also communicate with the prosecution as stated in IC 35-40-5-3. However, these rights could only be exercised in such a way, as they did not infringe on the accused’s constitutional rights.
According to IC 35-40-5-2, the victim has a right, when he or she requests for this information, to be told of the release or escape of a person who has either been accused or convicted of a crime against the victim (IC 35-40-5 Chapter 5. Victim Rights). The victim should also be informed when the accused or convicted person is released or escapes from a mental health institution. In this case, the court that committed the person should be the one to pass this information. IC 35-40-5-4 establishes the victims’ right to have their security considered before a determination of whether the accused person should be released is made (IC 35-40-5 Chapter 5. Victim Rights).
In subsection 5, the right of the victim to a hearing during proceedings involving sentencing, pre, or post-conviction decisions on release is established. Part 6 talks about pre-sentence reports and the victim’s right to make a written or oral statement for use during the preparation of this report. Part 7 establishes the victim’s right to seek civil remedies against the accused. Part 8, on the other hand, states the victim’s right to be given information on the accused’s case, upon request for such information. In section 9, the victim’s right to be informed of his rights both statutory and constitutional is established. The final subsection talks about the defense counsel’s interview with the victims of sex crimes who are under the age of sixteen (IC 35-40-5 Chapter 5. Victim Rights).
These laws have significantly affected the way in which criminal justice is administered in Indiana. For one, the victims’ rights laws have led to increased costs of operation and increased workload (Giannini, 2001). New staff has had to be hired particularly due to the requirement that victims be kept informed. This has forced upward revision of budgets, although the notification through electronic means has helped to mitigate this. These laws have also affected the outcomes of some cases although this is only in very few instances. The legislation has led to the imposition of longer terms in some cases, thanks to the emotional appeal from the victims especially in the submissions made at a sentencing hearing (Giannini, 2001).
Whereas the laws in Indiana are generally comprehensive, there are some areas where improvements are possible. One of these areas is the right to protection of the victim. In other states, witnesses have the right to police protection, such as an armed escort both when attending and when leaving court. Other situations include having separate waiting areas, away from the accused. This would minimize the risk of attacks on the victim. In matters of protection, the special arrangements can also be introduced for the very vulnerable victims. These include young children who can be allowed to testify in camera.
Alton, K., & Ali, G. (2005). Answering the Call For a More Diverse Judiciary: A Review of State Judicial Selection Models and Their Impact on Diversity. Washington, DC: Lawyers Committee For Civil Rights Under Law.
Giannini, M. M. (2001). THE SWINGING PENDULUM OF VICTIMS’ RIGHTS: THE ENFORCEABILITY OF INDIANA’S VICTIMS’ RIGHTS LAWS. Indiana Law Review, 1157-1198.
Hurwitz, M. S., & Lanier, D. N. (2008). Diversity in State and Federal Appellate Courts: Change and Continuity Across 20 Years. The Justice System Journal, 47-70.
IC 35-40-5 Chapter 5. Victim Rights. (n.d.). Retrieved March 28, 2015, from IN.gov: http://www.in.gov/legislative/ic/2010/title35/ar40/ch5.html
Torres-Spelliscy, C., Chase, M., & Greenman, E. (2010). Improving Judicial Diversity. New York: Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.