Betrayal

Soon after my daughter Polly was kidnapped on October 1, 1993, she became known as America’s child. Donations to assist and facilitate the search poured in from the far corners of America. Violet and I founded the nonprofit Polly Klaas Foundation (PKF) to best administer funds and to protect ourselves from potential speculation that we would misappropriate money donated to help find Polly. We wanted to be proactive in ensuring that the focus remained on finding Polly.

 

Nonprofit organizations are governed by a Board of Directors. For the PKF we chose individuals who were prominent during the early days of the search. In fact, Violet and I left much of the organizing to those very people as we immersed ourselves in the search for our missing daughter. We named the organization after Polly because the donations, the focus and the hope was all about my daughter. Before the month of October, 1993 ended the Internal Revenue Service had conferred nonprofit status on the PKF.

 

Board responsibilities included fundraising, program development and financial management. Generally, Boards of Directors do not become involved in the day to day running of an organization. Those are tasks that are left to the nonprofit’s President, Executive Director, and staff.

 

Upon learning of Polly’s tragic death on Dec. 4, it was our intention to lobby for laws that would protect children, use the remaining $283,000 to help find other missing children, and continue fundraising, but the PKF Board made it difficult to accomplish these objectives. They seemed more concerned about protecting (their) assets and enjoying the status of sitting on the Board of a high profile nonprofit organization. This resulted in deep and ingrained tension between Violet, me and the Board. Violet, who was not a member of the Board, was not allowed to attend meetings. At these meetings I often found myself with very few allies.

 

Janet Reno’s visit to Petaluma in July, 1994 was a good example of my conflict with the Board. I had secured the United States Attorney General to speak at a town hall meeting to discuss crimes against children. As a result, the PKF Board accused me of grandstanding. They reasoned that if the Attorney General’s visit was a success I would receive the glory, but if it failed they would take the blame. After Ms. Reno’s visit, which went very well, drew massive media attention, and filled the hall at the Petaluma Community Center, relations between the Board and me became even more strained.

President Clinton signing the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994

Within a year of my daughter’s kidnapping several events foreshadowed our rocky nonprofit experience and lonely crusade. On September 13, 1994, I stood on the podium with President Clinton at the White House when he signed The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The President gave me the first pen that he used to sign the bill. The Crime Bill provided for 100,000 new cops, allocated $6.1-billion in prevention funds for at risk children, and nearly $10-billion for prison construction costs.

 

Within days of my invitation to join the president the PKF Board informed me that I was no longer allowed to pursue criminal justice legislation. They argued that a non-profit organization is prohibited from advocating for new laws. They knew that this was not accurate. What was happening was the PKF Board had created a mission limitation that did not include legislation. Violet and I believed that Polly’s legacy had to include powerful public policy positions that would protect other children from her tragedy.

 

Without hesitation and a sense of urgency a separate non-profit application to create what would become known as the KlaasKids Foundation had been submitted from which to lobby, advocate and promote legislation. The PKF Board said that I had created a conflict of interest by finding an avenue that would allow me to pursue goals that they forbade me from pursuing. This was their justification for expelling me from the nonprofit that bore my daughter’s name. Ironically, the current PKF website states that a primary objective is to effect legislation which, “Will ensure that children can be safe in their own homes and communities.”

 

Within one year and 20-days of my daughter’s death, on October 21, 1994, without my knowledge, the PKF Board secured a trademark for the name Polly Klaas. My daughter’s name now belonged to the Polly Klaas Foundation.

 

Within a month of trademarking my daughter’s name, while Violet and I were out of town, the PKF Board voted me off the board during a secret meeting. This was the first Board meeting that I did not attend since the inception of the organization. Over the telephone the Board President informed me that I was expelled from the nonprofit organization that bore my daughter’s name. I felt that I had lost my daughter yet again. Violet and I were no longer welcome at the Foundation that we had created and hoped would become Polly’s legacy. We had been betrayed.

 

When Violet and I were locked out of the PKF we had $2,000, a fledgling nonprofit that would become the KlaasKids Foundation and knives in our backs. We felt that we had lost our daughter yet again. With a sense of urgency we believed that there was no time to lose, because otherwise everyone would forget. We struggled. Violet worked a full time job; I volunteered my time to KlaasKids. We lived frugally, turning our home into an office. We worked 18-hour days writing, advocating, traveling and otherwise pursuing our window of opportunity. Fortunately, our voice and our passion were being heard on television, radio, in the op-ed pages of newspapers and at KlaasKids events throughout the country.

 

It was through KlaasKids that we built a solid reputation for action and accomplishment. Meanwhile the PKF struggled. With just a few months of operating expenses left in their account, PKF launched a high profile car donation program. For the next several years a confused public donated millions of dollars’ worth of vehicles in Polly’s name despite the fact that the PKF produced minimal results.

 

The sense of betrayal continues to this day. Today it was brought to my attention that there is an organization exploiting missing Morgan Hill cheerleader Sierra LaMar for profit. The families who suffer and are victimized by the loss of their children are victimized yet again by those who steal, exploit or profit off of personal tragedy. I have witnessed too many instances of family members pursuing a legacy in honor of their loved one only to have their organization hijacked.

 

Shame on them! People or groups who oust family members betray the memories of crime victims by heaping insult upon injury. Sometimes I can still feel the knife in my back, but I take solace in the knowledge that Polly was my child and that her legacy is my destiny. KlaasKids may not bare Polly’s name, but we have created her legacy and given meaning to her death. One of the lessons of betrayal is to remain strong and not allow it to tarnish our character.

 

 

 

 

 

Proposition 35 and Human Sex Trafficking

On November 6, California voters can launch the single largest movement against human trafficking in our country and pass the toughest anti-human trafficking law in the United States by voting YES on Proposition 35. We will deliver a firm statement to traffickers around the world that we take slavery seriously and care about those in bondage.

 

Human trafficking, the modern day equivalent of slavery, became an American legislative priority when President Bush signed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000. Human trafficking, which includes labor and sex trafficking, is acknowledged as the second most profitable international criminal enterprise after drug smuggling. Victims of human trafficking are forced or coerced to work or commit sexual acts by violent criminals who strip them of their dignity and their freedom.

The TVPA was based on the theory that the United States is a destination country for human trafficking. However, original TVPA estimates of 50,000 women and children trafficked into the United States annually have since been downgraded to 14,500-17,500 per year, so initial estimates were reduced by more than two-thirds after the legislation was signed into law. The direction of the TVPA, which agencies would administer it, and which populations would be targeted were based upon seriously flawed data.

 

The Federal definition of sex trafficking includes when, “a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.” It is very simple: according to Federal law, children can never consent to prostitution, it is always exploitation. A person who has not attained 18 years of age and is induced to perform a commercial sex act is then a victim of human sex trafficking. Therefore, all underage youth who are involved in prostitution, and who are under the influence of a pimp, are by definition, victims of human sex trafficking.”

 

Between 1.6 and 2.8 million children run away annually in the U.S., half of which are girls. Within 48 hours of hitting the streets, one third of these children are lured or recruited into the underground world of prostitution or pornography.  The average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution is 12-14.  For boys, the entry age is 11-13.

 

These harrowing statistics provides broad justification for a growing focus upon the domestic side of this issue, because the statistics conclusively demonstrate that the USA is a source country as well as a destination country for Human Sex Trafficking. Unfortunately, the vast majority of resources unleashed by the TVPA are still globally directed. This is why Prop 35 is so important to California’s future.

 

In addition, current California law is inadequate to deal with the realities of human trafficking in our state. The California Trafficking Victims Protection Act (CTVPA), passed in 2005, established human trafficking for forced labor or services as a felony crime punishable by a sentence of 3, 4 or 5 years in state prison and a sentence of 4, 6 or 8 years for trafficking of a minor. Incredibly, according to California law, there is no stated penalty for sex trafficking of a minor without force. The CTVPA was written when domestic human trafficking was viewed as a crime impacting mainly foreign nationals brought into this country. It overlooked thousands of American minors and adults who were also exploited.

Proposition 35 will eliminate barriers to prosecute child sex traffickers by removing the requirement to prove “force, fraud or coercion” of a minor trafficking victim. Prop 35 will deter traffickers in California with higher penalties and fines, use fines to fund victim services, mandate training for law enforcement officers, require convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders, require all sex offenders to disclose Internet accounts, and protect victims in court proceedings.

 

The choice is clear. On November 6, California voters can draw a line in the sand and stand up for domestic victims of human sex trafficking, or we can continue a status quo approach that criminalizes young victims as it celebrates some of the most heinous criminals in our midst: human sex traffickers. I am going to vote Yes on Prop 35, because to turn our backs on the tens of thousands of children being trafficked in California is simply another form of victimization.

We Found Something

It has been a busy weekend for KlaasKids. We facilitated a meeting between the Sierra LaMar Search Center, her family and Congressman Jerry McNerney (CA-11) on Saturday morning. Simultaneously, we participated in an important grass roots rally on behalf of Proposition 35 in Elk Grove. After that Violet and I drove to Sacramento where KlaasKids Foundation SAR Director Brad Dennis was facilitating a weekend worth of searches for missing UC Davis coed Linnea Lomax. Then we found something.

 

Congressman McNerney is the first member of Congress to visit search center since Congressman Mike Honda (CA-15) visited on June 6. Both members of Congress have expressed support for a legislation being considered as a result of Sierra’s disappearance. The new law would close the loophole that allows schools to wait until the end of the day before notifying parents that their children did not attend school.

Violet Klaas, Daphne Phung, Rosario Dowling & Me!

Proposition 35 continues to pick up support as Election Day approaches on November 6. Currently, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Congresswoman Jackie Speier lead a list of more than 60-elected officials who publicly support the anti-trafficking ballot measure that will also bridge Megan’s Law into the 21st Century. They are joined by law enforcement groups representing more than 90,000-sworn police officers and more than 125-child advocacy organizations throughout California.

 

Linnea Lomax is a 19-year-old coed student who disappeared on the early afternoon of Tuesday June 26 after walking away from an outpatient mental health facility near the American River in Sacramento, California. The day before, June 25, Linnea had been released from a psychiatric facility where she was recovering from a psychological breakdown. On July 4, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department absolved themselves of any responsibility for locating Linnea, despite her fragile mental state, when they said, “Circumstances suggest she is, by all accounts, voluntarily missing and choosing to stay away from friends and family.” Potential sightings, theories and tips that initially flooded the tip line set up by Linnea’s family have since been reduced to a trickle.

 

Left to their own devices the family hired a private investigator to lead the search for Linnea. He focused his investigation on human sex trafficking. KlaasKids assisted this effort by monitoring known websites that advertise escort and erotic services up and down the West Coast, but nothing of consequence turned up. Despite no real evidence that she was involved in the trafficking trade valuable weeks were devoted to that singular scenario. Finally, the family let the private investigator go and eventually asked the KlaasKids Foundation to conduct a search of Linnea.

 

Linnea’s family runs a Christian kids adventure camp near Sacramento. She has grown up among the pristine hills, canyons, valleys, and rivers of Northern California’s Sierra foothills. She was raised near in and around nature, and has a very strong sense of natural surroundings and the environment. She would not leave an orange peel at a camp site out of a concern that the next camper might be offended.

 

This past Friday, Saturday and Sunday KlaasKids sent 230 search volunteers on 40-search assignments. Search volunteers were a combination of family, friends, others drawn from the faith based community, complete strangers, and KlaasKids friends from the Bay Area. The sun was shining brightly and the temperature was in the high 80-90’s range. We focused the search on the American River for two reasons. It was near the mental health facility that she was last seen at, and she was familiar with and loved the American River. It almost always makes sense to focus a search near the last place the victim was last seen.

 

Linnea’s Notebook

On Sunday afternoon one of the search teams found it. Linnea’s notebook, the one she was holding when last seen was there…in the bushes only two blocks away from the mental health facility. It was near a foot path heading toward the river. It seemed to have been flung into the bushes. Our team leader contacted the search center and the authorities. Linnea’s father confirmed the sighting. Now the evidence needs to be processed.

 

Fifty-four days after she disappeared we have developed our first solid lead. We believe that Linnea tossed her notebook into the bushes. Much can be read into that, but it is not my place to do so. What I do feel comfortable pointing out is that in the past five months we have sent out somewhere in the neighborhood of 9,000 volunteers on approximately 900 search assignments in and around Morgan Hill and we have not found anything relating to the disappearance of Sierra LaMar. Stay tuned for updates.

Connecticut Justice or a Travesty of Justice?

 

On Friday, August 10, 2012, Connecticut Superior Court Judge Thomas Corradino awarded $52,666 in damages to Madeline Gleason, the former girlfriend of missing person and presumed murder victim Billy Smolinski. Gleason had sued Smolinski’s family members for severe emotional distress, claiming that they had posted missing person posters about Billy near Gleason’s home and the bus route that she drove. That the Judge agreed with her is nothing less than a travesty of justice.

 

One of the proven techniques for recovering missing runaway children and adults is to post flyers of those children in neighborhoods where they are thought to be hiding out, and at venues where they are known to hang out: places like malls and fast food outlets. The goals are many: to acquire credible leads; and to hopefully flush out the missing person and encourage them into returning home. An objective of this technique is to see if the flyers are removed from a particular location. If so, you may be closing in on the missing person or the person responsible for their disappearance.

Jan & Bill Sr. with their son’s missing flyer

When your child is missing, you want to get the word out. You talk about it, you post flyers and you beg for television time. If you can make enough people award of a missing child, you have a greater chance of affecting a recovery, whatever that means. In fact, that is the theory behind the Amber Alert program.

 

That is why missing person flyers are ubiquitous in our society. They are in storefronts in communities where children are missing, and they are a staple on cable television shows like Nancy Grace and Issues with Jane Velez Mitchell. Broadcast television features missing persons regularly on shows like Dateline, 48 Hours and 20/20. Missing person profiles, discussion groups and real crime forums have proliferated in social networking communities in recent years. Even Walmart features missing persons in all of their facilities through the United States. In fact, it is difficult to avoid missing persons in modern society, so for a judge to legitimize the convoluted claims of an ex-girlfriend, who was caught on camera tearing down those flyers, is unconscionable.

 

Of course, there is more to this story than missing person flyers. We know that Madeline Gleason was cheating on Billy Smolinski with another man, a married local politician, and that Billy disappeared shortly after finding this out. We know that a multi-jurisdictional law enforcement task force believes that Madeline Gleason’s son killed Billy Smolinski. Unfortunately, we also know that the Smolinski family continues to grieve and search for their beloved son.

 

Billy Smolinski and his dog Harley

I’ve known Jan Smolinski for many years. She is an honorable woman who is heartbroken that her son has been missing and presumed dead for nearly 8-years now. Like me, or the family of Sierra LaMar or any of the other parents of missing kids who stare teary eyed into the camera and say that, “We will never give up hope,” and defy stark realities, Jan Smolinski is a crime victim. The state should be protecting her, ensuring that she has the right to maintain her dignity and be treated with respect. Instead, because of the actions of Superior Court Judge Thomas Corradino, she and her family are being re-victimized by the power of an entire state. They have not only lost their son, but are in jeopardy of losing their life savings.

Madeline Gleason holding Billy Smolinski missing flyer

One of the fundamental functions of government is to protect the innocent and shield victims of crime. Instead Connecticut has chosen to pile indignity upon loss. This is heartbreaking and should not be allowed to happen. When a culture choses to devour the downtrodden, than that culture has lost its way.

 

Posting missing person flyers is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Or is it? What kind of message is being sent if one can become liable to legal action for simply posting a flyer of a missing person, regardless of whose neighborhood or bus route it is posted in?

 

The Glass Half Full and Child Safety

It was expected to be 106 degrees in Patterson, CA yesterday. Packing lightly, I left my apartment to pick up Danielle [LaMar] from the BART station – ready to head down to the inferno we all call central California. Our three hour mini-roadtrip, though hilariously misdirected as we crossed Sacramento County when we were supposed to be going south, was smooth sailing as we caught up on each other’s lives and the latest in both of our family’s cases.

 

My first time doing a KlaasKids Print-a-thon was in Patterson nearly a year ago – the October right after we found Michelle. At that time, I was adjusting to a new normal as I started involving myself with the organization that helped find her. That October, I promised myself, Michelle and KlaasKids that I would be involved with this team for the rest of my life.

 

It was a strong commitment to make, to say the least. Recently, with the trial coming up, I have been reflecting on this new normal that I’ve made and how rapidly and dramatically my lifestyle, hobbies and attitude have changed as a direct result of her death.

 

I have always believed in optimism – making and seeing things better and brighter. Michelle’s murder presented what was possibly the most challenging situation to be optimistic about; it was senseless, cold, brutal violence that gashed into our lives and made us realize how dark and evil human nature really can be. We, as a society, see robberies and crimes every day on the news, hear about weird zombie cannibals on bath salts, maybe mingled briefly with others who have faced tragedies of their own – but until you taste the same sense of bitter anger, confusion, hopelessness and desperation for answers, you feel shielded from all the world’s woes.

 

Then there are families who are brave enough to hear about the world’s woes, and not only acknowledge, but face the fact that they should be preventative about protecting their children. Not by avoiding, but embracing, the conversation about child safety.

 

Danielle, Marc, Violet and I headed to the Patterson festival ready to meet and help those families.

 

Also joining KlaasKids was Tabitha Cardenas, who lost her own 4-year-old son in early 2011 in Patterson. I had a chance to meet Tabitha last October; she is truly a strong woman with a beautiful smile that seems to defy all that happened to her and her young boy.

 

At print-a-thons, there is no darkness. Parents line up with their little ones whose ages range from a couple months old to 18 years old, ready to get them fingerprinted and ID-ed. We meet children and teens of all sorts of personalities – from super hyper to rebellious to autistic or with a mental disability – but all children have the same thing in common. They are all lovely, young and trusting – all with the potential to be lost or kidnapped.

 

These parents wait in line to do one of the best things they could do for their children – prepare to talk to them about child safety. They watch proudly as their child gets fingerprinted and laugh as their sons and daughters smile broadly at our camera. They know that it’s better to be safe than sorry, that the conversation about child safety isn’t something to avoid – that it could be fun and educational.

 

At the end of the day, we fingerprinted over 260 kids and met dozens of families and parents in the sweltering heat of Patterson. Over 260 kids went home with their bio sheets, safety tips and DNA kits. Hopefully, over 260 kids will have the conversation with their parents about child safety and crisis prevention.

 

I left the print-a-thon with a spoonful more optimism.

 

KlaasKids’ print-a-thons have historically helped over a million children. We can only hope our families’ stories helped 260 kids at Patterson; heck, we’d be happy if our families’ stories helped even one more family out there.

 

A year ago, I was in a dark place. Now I find myself in love with our organization, our searches and the volunteer heroes that we get to interact with on a daily basis. If the abductors, kidnappers and murderers expected our families to back down and whimper at our losses, I hope they know that our optimism overpowers whatever power they think they have. That our loved ones’ legacies far outweigh their pitiful, rotten existences.

 

Now that’s looking on the bright side of things.

 

As Danielle and I head back to the East Bay, the temperature drops to a thankfully cooler 88 degrees. The sun is shining brilliantly as we wish those 260 kids the happiest – and safest – futures that they could have.

Vote NO on Prop 34: Judge Changes False and Misleading Statements by Prop 34 Proponents

California killers Clarence Ray Allen, Richard Allen Davis, Richard Ramirez, Scott Peterson

Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully, a statewide Co-Chair of Californians for Justice and Public Safety – No on 34 – today issued the following statement following the decision by Sacramento Superior Court Justice Timothy Frawley to change false and misleading statements made by Proposition 34 proponents in official ballot arguments as part of their campaign to eliminate California’s death penalty.  Nearly every major public safety organization in the state opposes Prop 34 because it will embolden criminals and endanger California.

 

“We appreciate Judge Frawley’s thoughtful decision, which upholds our position that the Proponents of Prop 34 are waging a deceptive campaign in an effort to eliminate the Death Penalty.

 

Convincing a Judge to change ballot statements is an extraordinary action.  Judge Frawley agreed with us that Prop 34 proponents’ attempt to suggest that the measure’s $100 million appropriation was a result of alleged savings is false.  He rightly acknowledged that, if Prop 34 passes, $100 million will be taken from the State General fund, regardless of whether or not any money is actually saved. There were other assertions by the proponents in their ballot arguments that the judge labeled as ‘hyperbole” or “opinion’.  Translation – their assertions are exaggerated claims or opinions.

 

California voters deserve better. Consumers must get accurate and honest disclosure of what is contained in the products they buy, or District Attorneys can prosecute the manufacturers for consumer fraud.   Said another way, they can be prosecuted for false advertising and unfair business practices.

 

Sadly, there are no standards for honesty and accuracy for special interests and political campaigns.   If we did, Prop 34 proponents and those who have long sought to eliminate the death penalty wouldn’t get to use hyperbole or be allowed to mislead by exaggeration.  It should be noted that Prop 34 supporters did not challenge a single statement by our side.  That’s because we stick to the facts and respect voters who have consistently and overwhelmingly affirmed the Death Penalty as a just sentence in cases where a murder has been committed with special and horrific circumstances. Never, in the arguments made by those who support repealing the death penalty do you hear them talk about the victims of the killers they seek to save.

 

Well that stops today. Of course the murdered victims cannot speak, but there are victims who can.  They are the families of murdered victims that lost a loved one at the hands of a cold-blooded killer.  Our campaign will give them a voice to speak out about public safety. And that’s what is important…public safety.  Justice…the right of Californians to live in a safe community.  Today is the first defeat for the Proposition 34 campaign.  The next one will be on Election Day, when voters reject the hyperbole and opinion and stand up for California by voting No on 34.”

Sierra LaMar: Anatomy of a Search Day 120

Beauty attracts…everyone.

 

With Violet at the Birds Nest Stadium

Violet and I enjoy the Olympics so much that we attended in Los Angeles in 1984 and Beijing in 2008. For two weeks every four years we try to clear our calendars so that we can spend the evening watching the amazing athletic competitions, hopefully without being undermined by smartphone or Internet spoilers.

 

But, truth be told, one of our favorite aspects to the Olympics is simply watching the athletes. Demonstrating dazzling displays of power and speed, Olympic athletes shine on the world stage at the peak of physical perfection, dazzling billions of awe struck onlookers with feats of unequaled athletic ability.  We can see it in their clear focus, scrubbed complexions and toned muscles. They are, simply put, beautiful!

Sierra LaMar

After the Olympics I sometimes go to bed as my thoughts drift toward the search for Sierra LaMar. Like my own daughter Polly, Sierra was doing nothing wrong. She was simply a girl minding her own business when her life was invaded by a fatal attraction that changed everything. An attraction triggered by youthful beauty and fueled by madness.

 

Beauty can propel you to superstar heights. It can bring you happiness and the adoration of millions. Beautiful people seem to walk a path through life that simply appears under the red carpet. They have an ease of confidence and success seems to come more readily. Beauty doesn’t even require personality as it exists of its own accord.

 

However, beauty does have its downside. It attracts everybody and not everybody has best of intentions. When beauty attracts the beast the consequences can be dire because sometimes the beast cannot simply admire, but must possess. And the beast cannot share, but must consume. Then beauty ceases to exist and the beast turns his attention elsewhere, seeking out more beauty. It goes on and on and on until it is stopped.

 

Polly Klaas and People Magazine

Polly always wanted to be on the cover of People Magazine, and to take care of her father when she grew up. I always thought that she had the all American beauty and talent to achieve that goal. Well Polly was propelled onto the cover of People Magazine by a fame that was as unpredictable as it was unwanted. Now, I sit in the back of Town Cars, or watch the Olympics and reflect on the nature of beauty.  If you are fortunate you become adored and walk life along the red carpet. If you are unfortunate and your beauty attracts the eye of evil, you may never have the chance to achieve your dreams or fulfill your potential.

 

Beauty is a double edged sword that can propel you to the heights of glory or drag you into the depths of some psycho’s personal Hell.

Sierra LaMar: Anatomy of a Search Day 116

The recent plea hearing for the individual accused of kidnapping and killing Sierra LaMar demonstrated yet again the preferential treatment afforded to criminals. The defendant waived his right to appear in court and his lawyers asked for the hearing to be postponed while they subpoena cell phone records currently under seal. The judge granted a continuance until August 29, when a plea may be entered. This shadow maneuver only postpones the inevitable since it is guaranteed that the defendant will plead not guilty to all charges. I agree with the Constitutional guarantees that Sierra’s accused killer must treated fairly, but what about her family. Shouldn’t they have rights too?

In order to guarantee equal protection under the law the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, otherwise known as the Bill of Rights, provides fundamental rights to individuals who are accused of crimes. Those rights include: the presumption that the defendant is innocent, the burden on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the right to remain silent, confront witnesses, have a public trial by jury, be adequately represented by an attorney, not to be tried twice for the same offense, and the right to a speedy trial.

32 states have amendments in their Constitutions that guarantee some level of victims’ rights, and more than 32,000 statutes have been passed in states and at the federal level that define and protect the rights of crime victims. These rights vary from state to state, but tend to include: the right to notification of proceedings and to attend proceedings, the right to be heard, the right to compensation, and the right to protection.

 

The major distinction between defendants’ rights and victims’ rights is that the United States Constitution guarantees the rights of defendants, while the rights of victims are guaranteed by either statute or a state’s constitution. The word victim does not exist in the U.S. Constitution and victims of crime have virtually no legal standing in the ultimate law of the land. This means that there is no equity under the law. The rights of defendants will always trump the rights of victims.

 

The only way that crime victims will ever receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system is through the passage of a crime victims’ amendment to the United States Constitution. Amending the U.S. Constitution is a difficult process. Amendments must be proposed to the states by a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress, and then be ratified by three-fourths of the states before it becomes law. Currently, there are 27 amendments to the United States Constitution.

 

It is an unfortunate irony that constitutional rights created to protect the innocent now shield the guilty. In 2010, U.S. residents age 12 or older experienced an estimated 18.7 million violent and property crime victimizations. That is down from 2001, when we suffered 24.2 million violent and property crime victimizations. When millions of American citizens’ lives are forever impacted by the violent actions of others, we need to take steps to protect their rights as we do the rights of the accused.

What can we do to rectify this imbalance? A bi-partisan effort to create a Victims’ Rights Amendment fell short about a decade ago. Sponsored by Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), and with the support of Presidents Clinton and Bush, the proposed amendment never made it to the states for ratification.

 

However, House Joint Resolution 6, currently before the United States Congress would establish a Victims Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. If passed, H. J. Res. 106 will give victims of crime the right to fairness, respect, and dignity. Victims will further have the right to reasonable notice of and ability to attend public proceedings relating to the offense; the rights to be heard at any release, plea, sentencing, or other such proceeding. My sources tell me that 100 co-sponsors will bring House Joint Resolution 6 to the House Floor for a vote! We need to act now before the legislative session draws to a close. Your voice matters!  Visit www.congressmerge.com/onlinedb to find your Representative, call him or her now and ask him or her to co-sponsor H. J. Res. 106.

Thomas Jefferson

We should never lightly amend the United States Constitution. However, victims of crime will never be fairly treated by a system that does not afford them equal fundamental rights, and that can only be achieved through constitutional amendment. Thomas Jefferson eloquently stated the need to occasionally modify the ultimate law of the land: “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered, and manners and opinions change; with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.”