Crime Victims to get protection under HJR 49/50

Article by Steve Doell, president of Crime Victims United and a member of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, Oregon Crime Victims Rights Compliance Implementation Project, and the Attorney General’s Task Force on Restitution.

It is an honor to have Attorney General Hardy Myers as a requester on HJR 49 and HRJ 50, along with Crime Victims United. Crime Victims United supports HJR 49 and HJR 50 and here is why:

The Attorney General was right when he stated that the Victims’ Rights movement in Oregon began with the Crime Victims Compensation Bill in 1977. Three years later, a vicious crime took place in San Francisco, California that would impact the Victims’ Rights movement in Oregon for the next 26 years. Valerie McDonald, the daughter of Oregonians Bob and Dee Dee Kouns, and a recent graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, was abducted and murdered in November of 1980. Her remains were recovered in 1991 in the flood plain of the Kettle River, one mile from the Canadian border in Ferry County, Washington. The remains were identified in late 2000, and her parents were notified in January of 2001, that Valerie had at long last been found.This tragedy led Bob and Dee to the Parents of Murdered Children chapter in Portland where they learned of the mistreatment of victims by the criminal justice system. They founded Crime Victims United in 1983 to address this injustice. Since then, CVU has been the resource to which Oregon crime victims turn when their rights are violated.

In 1984, CVU placed the first Crime Victims Rights statutory provision, Measure 8, on the ballot, which was narrowly defeated. In 1986, they followed with another statutory initiative, Measure 10, which was overwhelmingly passed by the voters.

In 1996, Ballot Measure 40, which would enshrine victims’ rights in the State Consitution, was passed. In 1998, the Supreme Court of Oregon invalidated Measure 40, not on substantive, but rather on technical grounds, now known as the Armatta decision.

In 1999, the Legislature referred seven of the nine sections of Measure 40 to the voters, four of which passed. Two ballot measures, 69 and 71, became Sections 42 and 43 of Article I of the Oregon Constitution. These are the sections to be amended by HJR 49 and 50.

HJR 49 and 50 will allow victims to defend their constitutional rights on appeal when violated. Presently there are 34 states that have adopted constitutional rights for crime victims. Only two of those states, Oregon and Virginia, are without standing or remedy for those rights. In hindsight, it was with an over-abundance of caution that the issue of standing was not placed in Measure 40 or the subsequent measures referred by the Legislature. However it is notable that the members of Oregon District Attorneys Association, who were most concerned about this issue at the time, stand with us today in support of HJR 49 and 50. The reason for HJR 49 and 50 is simply because the current rights are illusory without remedy if they are violated. And, they must be placed in the Consitution because currently the Constitution prohibits remedy.

Some case examples of why victims should have standing in the courts:

The Harberts Case: Scott Dean Harberts sexually assaulted and murdered two-year-old Christina Lynn Hornich in 1989. He was found guilty of Aggravated Murder. The Oregon Supreme Court released him from death row and out of prison in 2000, not because he was innocent, but because of his claim of denial of the right to a speedy trial. Little Christina’s mother was notified not by the court, rather by a reporter knocking on her door to ask her about the release.

One of the ultimate violations of a victim’s right came in the case of Dr. David Burleson. Burleson fondled women patients while they were sedated several times a year since 2000. Two of these cases were reported to the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office by the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners. The district attorney took the case to the grand jury and the judge made the decision that the victims did not need to know they were sexually abused.

From personal experience, I can tell you of the right to give a victim’s impact statement being denied, of defense attorney investigators attempting to interview victims through misrepresenting themselves by stating that they were with the “DA’s office”.

I have personally spoken to victims who experienced District Attorneys failing to consult with them in plea negotations or moving forward with a plea agreement different from the one they were advised of.

I have tried to help victims who were not notified of Parole Board and Psychiatric Review Board hearings.

And finally, victims continually call on CVU when their right to receive restitution from the criminal has been violated. All you need to know on the subject of restitution is that less than 20 percent of restitution is collected in Oregon and there is no recourse for the victim.

We spend lots of time in this building concerning ourselves with the rights of the accused and convicted as we should. One of my mentors in the Crime Victims movement, Bob Kouns, once said “Without victims there would be no need for a criminal justice system, if we could return all the property, heal all the injuries, and raise the dead.” But we know that is not possible, so now we ask you to address the rights of crime victims.

Lastly, as you consider this matter, I would ask that you reflect on the profound words of a father in the Long Island, New York Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, expressing his dismay about the treatment he received in the criminal justice system: “All we ask is to be treated like criminals.”

All we are asking for is standing and remedy for victims of crime whose rights are violated.

Thank you Mr. Chair and Members of the Committee. I will be happy to answer any questions you have.