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Illinois Victims' Rights Amendment Stalls After Sudden Turnaround In Legislative Support

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Flickr:  Newhaircut
Flickr: Newhaircut

A bill that would amend the Illinois Constitution to favor the rights of victims during criminal proceedings seemed primed for passage until a sudden wave of opposition from the House Criminal Law committee killed it days before the deadline.

HJRCA0029 would have offered the victims of violent crimes more involvement in criminal trials by extending legal standing to victims or their surviving relatives. It would amend the constitution to require the courts to keep victims informed of progress in criminal proceedings, to allow for victim-impact statements during sentencing and to have the victim's well-being factored into bail decisions.

The measure easily passed the State House and Senate with overwhelming majorities, claiming Attorney General Lisa Madigan among its key supporters, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. But vocal dissent from state attorney organizations and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez helped stall the proposal.

The amendment was defeated in the House Judiciary Committee on Criminal Law last week after members heard arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys who said adding a third interest group to criminal proceedings could undermine the fairness of a trial, the State Journal-Register reports. The amendment would allow victims or their legal representation to confer with prosecutors before charges were filed.

Victims' rights advocates, including members of Marsey's Law for Illinois, an advocacy group named for a murder victim from California whose case prompted similar legislation, have condemned the sudden halt in the legislation's progress.

Matt Jones of the States' Attorney's Association said legal advocates aren't against this type of legislation, but that the language needs to be studied further before changes can be made, he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"It is not something that should be done without great consideration," Jones told the newspaper. " We brand ourselves as the voice of victims, but the criminal justice system has to trump personal feelings, alliances and personal relationships-we have to get this right before we change the Constitution."

Flickr photo by Newhaircut

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