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Gore Boosts Victims' Rights

"No one should have to go through what you experienced in the aftermath of crime," Al Gore told a small roomful of crime victims and law enforcement officials. "A system that sometimes treated you as an afterthought."

The vice president campaigned in his home state of Tennessee Tuesday on his support of a constitutional amendment that would guarantee certain rights for crime victims in criminal justice proceedings.

Jacket off, Gore listened to personal stories of crime victims:

  • "The perpetrators have all the rights; we don't have any!" complained a widow who said she provided 24/7 home care to a husband who was disabled by a gun shot wound.
  • A woman who survived a kidnapping and rape told Gore she wants to know if her attackers are paroled: "I don't want to be in a grocery store and run into 'em," she said.
  • A third woman said a layman cannot understand at the time of sentencing if, or when, the convict will be paroled. Another crime survivor said trial on her matter was rescheduled seven times.
Some law enforcement officers who support Gore's goals also spoke at the small gathering in a university library.

"Accused criminals have all kinds of rights," Gore said. And when the rights of the accused and the rights of the victim "come into conflict, it's not even a close contest. The victim takes the back seat."

Gore said the amendment would guarantee victims of crime:

  • The right to be heard by the court during the sentencing process
  • The right to be notified when a jailed attacker will be released
  • The right to restitution from the convicted offender
  • The right to a trial without unreasonable delay.

    The idea for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing victims rights has been around for a while. A proposed amendment in the Senate, which is co-sponsored by Gore ally Dianne Feinstein, was pulled by its Republican sponsor in April over a disagreement with the Clinton-Gore administration, which wanted to add language giving prosecutors and judges discretion to limit some of the victim's rights in cases where the victim's participation might hurt the defendant's chances for a fair trial.

    Gore has not adopted the language of the senators' proposed amendment, but he does support most of the same goals. The Republican sponsor, Sen. John Kyl, complained that Gore has "never been helpful" moving the issue along.

    George W. Bush, the Republican candidate for president, also supports a victim's rights constitutional amendment.

    In addition to the amendment, Gore pledged his support for legislation protecting crime victims from employment discrimination related to their victimization, and guaranteeing victims unpaid leave from their jobs to attend legal proceedings.

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