The Coastal Post - September, 1995

Victims And Their Families Also Have Rights

BY ATTORNEY GENEARL DANIEL E. LUNGREN

The grieving parents wait outside the courtroom, watching the clock and courtroom doors for signs of what is happening in the trial. For eight years they have come to the courthouse every day during the three trials of their son's accused murderers. The parents come to the courthouse but in eight years they have never been allowed inside the courtroom. Thanks to legal maneuvering by defense lawyers, the parents must sit in the hallway outside.

The parents have no choice but to place their faith and trust in the justice system, yet they are denied the right to attend the proceedings, leaving them feeling "like diseased animals not allowed in the same courtroom with the family of the defendants."

This may sound like a daytime soap or a made-for-television movie. Unfortunately, this is the very real story of one California family who wanted to put the tragic murder of their son behind them by watching their son's accused killers stand trial only to be denied that right.

Tragically, this is not an isolated incident. In this day and age of preserving just about everyone's right before the court, the rights of crime victims and their families continues to receive short shrift in California. Under current law, defense attorneys can have a crime victim's family removed from the courtroom by making a motion requesting their removal without a court hearing and without affording the victim the opportunity to voice their objection.

Right now it is easier to remove a victim's family from a criminal court proceeding than it is to remove the news media. In fact, it is easier to remove the victim's family from witnessing the trial than it is to remove any other member of society.

This travesty of justice must be changed. A victim's family should not have fewer rights than the news media or the general public in viewing a trial.

I have proposed a change in the law so crime victims and their families have the same right to attend criminal proceedings as anyone else. On May 11, the State Assembly approved my bill on a 66 to 2 vote. I am hopeful this momentum will continue in the State Senate, because victims should never be made to feel inferior, especially in a court proceeding that directly impacts their lives.

Have we become so concerned with protecting the rights of accused criminals that we've forgotten than the criminal justice system has an obligation to also deliver justice to the victims of crime? I think the parents waiting in the hallway outside the courtroom could answer that question best.