Clinton favors amendment on victims' rights Details of proposal still to be worked out

June 21, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Having opposed every other proposed constitutional amendment during his term, President Clinton now intends to support one guaranteeing crime victims the right to be notified of and heard at court proceedings involving defendants in their cases, administration officials say.

Although civil libertarians and some experts in the Justice Department oppose such an amendment as a dangerous cluttering of the Constitution, and though about 20 states have such constitutional guarantees, aides said Clinton embraced the argument that victims' rights were too often overlooked while those of defendants were explicitly protected.

Details of the proposal remain to be settled, but Clinton is expected to endorse the concept in coming days, aides said.

The president has worked hard to neutralize years of Republican attacks on Democrats as being soft on crime, and the proposal would be another example of his determination not to be outdone on the sensitive political issue of law and order.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, are co-sponsors of an amendment that would guarantee a victim's right to be present at major stages of the case -- including the right to be present in court even if the victim was also called as a witness.

It also would guarantee the victim's rights to a speedy trial for the defendant and to be informed of any release or escape. It is backed by such groups as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Parents of Murdered Children.

Administration officials refused to say which of those specific provisions Clinton would endorse.

Some of them, like the right to be present in court even if the victim was a witness, would run counter to prevailing practice, which is intended to keep witnesses from adjusting their accounts based on what others say.

One White House lawyer said the goal was to let courts settle competing claims between victims and defendants, which are now almost automatically resolved in favor of defendants because of existing constitutional guarantees.

One senior White House aide emphasized that the amendment posed no threat to the Bill of Rights: "You'd have to have a pretty absolutist position about amendments to oppose it."

In fact, Clinton, once a law professor at the University of Arkansas, has opposed every other attempt to amend the Constitution during his term, objecting to amendments requiring a balanced budget, allowing school prayer and barring flag desecration.

Amendments must be passed by two-thirds majorities in each house and then ratified by three-quarters of the states.

Pub Date: 6/21/96

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