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Victims' rights yes, amendment no

Vote no on Prop. 9

The Orange County Register

It's not that the enhancements of crime victims' right contained in Proposition 9 are terribly objectionable. It's just that they don't seem especially necessary — and they could lead, as the independent legislative analyst says, to restrictions on efforts to relieve prison overcrowding that could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Under the 1982 proposition called the Victims' Bill of Rights, victims of crime and family members of victims now have the right to be notified of, to attend, and to speak at sentencing and parole hearings. They also have the right to restitution for losses suffered as the result of crimes. Other laws give victims the right to obtain a judicial order of protection from harassment by a criminal defendant.

Proposition 9 would place those rights into the state constitution rather than into statutory law, the distinction being that the constitution is much more difficult to change if problems develop. It would also give crime victims and their families the constitutional right to prevent the release of certain documents to criminal defendants or their attorneys, and the right to refuse to be interviewed or provide pretrial testimony or other evidence to a defendant. The constitution would be changed to require judges to take the safety of victims into consideration when granting bail. It would make restitution the first priority when spending any money collected from defendants in the form of fines. It would also extend the time between parole hearings from the current one to five years to three to 15 years.

These sound like reasonable protections for victims of crimes — though most are already in place by statutory law. However, the issue is complicated by the fact that California's prisons, which cost taxpayers about $10 billion a year, are now seriously overcrowded. The legislature and courts are considering measures to relieve overcrowding by releasing those deemed least dangerous early. If Prop. 9 is passed, it could prevent such efforts. Some of the provisions of the proposition could also be invalidated by federal courts.

We urge a No vote.

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