As detailed in Module 2, historically our criminal justice system’s foundation was built on robust protections for those accused of crimes. With our most valued freedoms at stake – among them liberty and privacy – it is understandable that our justice system includes vigorous protections for those accused of crimes. But this does not mean that the “accusers,” victims of crime who choose to seek justice in the criminal justice system, have no rights. In 1934, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo observed that
“[J]ustice, though due to the accused, is due to the accuser also. The concept of fairness must not be strained till it is narrowed to a filament. We are to keep the balance true.”1
In the late 1970s, a victims’ rights movement began which has produced gradual recognition and implementation of rights afforded to crime victims. This module will explore the legal foundations that afford crime victims with rights during the criminal justice system process. (Note: Remember that the prosecutor is not the victim’s legal counsel. Module 8 will expand on the current module by exploring how a victim’s attorney can assert/seek enforcement of these rights and how advocates can identify when a victim may benefit from legal counsel.)
1. Snyder v. Massachusetts, 291 U.S. 97 (1934).