Steve Chapman

The point is not to shaft the victim. It's to achieve a fair trial for the defendant by fostering accurate evidence. If victims were guaranteed the right to be present throughout, one consequence would be more erroneous convictions. It's hard to see how the victim of a crime benefits from sending the wrong person to prison.

The amendment doesn't actually change the Illinois rules on victim attendance at trials. It remains up to the judge. The difference is that the victim could appeal the decision to a higher court. But in real life, appeals courts give broad deference to the judges who preside at trials. A victim who asks for relief will rarely get it.

Not many are likely to request it. The reason police avoid illegal searches is because they know that if they arrest a suspect, a defense lawyer will demand that the incriminating evidence be thrown out. But most victims aren't going to hire lawyers to assert their rights. For most, the recourse afforded in this amendment will be of no use.

The federal victims' rights law is instructive. The government provides a complaint process for those who feel their rights were ignored, but the GAO unearthed only 11 complaints over three years -- none of which were validated.

The federal law allows victims to file appeals when court decisions go against them. But it's rare for appeals to be filed and exceptionally rare for them to succeed.

Prosecutors would also be allowed to act on behalf of victims. But that raises the other real problem with victims' rights protections: the expense and time they require of prosecutors and police.

Official victim advocates cost money, which is money that can't be spent catching criminals or prosecuting them. A dollar spent on victims is a dollar taken from some other vital criminal justice task. If victims get higher priority, something else will have to get a lower priority -- resulting in fewer arrests, fewer prosecutions or more clogged court dockets.

None of those effects will deter crime. And sometimes the best thing for victims is to avoid creating more of them.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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