Do Crime Victims Have “Illusory Rights” In Court?


The Oregon judge listened the victim’s mother, who wanted prison time for a former teacher who sexually abused a 15-year-old student. Instead, Judge John Collins followed the recommendation of the prosecutor and defense attorney and sentenced the woman, 39, to four months in jail and five years probation. Some crime victims’ advocates say the case illustrates flaws in a system that relies on the good will of judges and prosecutors. “What you have is what I would call illusory rights,” said Doug Beloof, a Lewis & Clark Law School professor and expert on victims’ rights. “For every right, there must be a remedy. In Oregon, these rights have not yet come into conformity with the traditional American civil rights model because there is no enforcement in the appellate courts.” He said victims should be able to go to court if they believe their rights are violated. That would bring Oregon in line with several other states and a federal law that went into effect last year.

Erin Olson, a former prosecutor who represents the victim in the sex abuse case, argues that the judge erred when he gave the woman less than 13 to 14 months in prison, the presumptive sentence under Oregon law. Under such circumstances, she said, victims should be able to appeal a sentence. “It’s situations like this when the public would be better served by having enforceable victims’ rights when the other parties in the criminal justice process aren’t willing to do it,” Olson said. That idea isn’t popular with prosecutors or defense attorneys, who say the system works fine as it is.


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