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Editorial: Don’t make truth a victim of politics

Updated: May 12, 2012 8:12AM

The purpose of a trial is to get to the truth. But our state’s troubling number of documented wrongful convictions shows the criminal justice system is far from achieving that ideal.

Now, an effort to amend the Illinois Constitution could further impede efforts to find the truth. It’s important that legislators not allow that to happen.

The proposed amendment, designed to boost victims’ rights, would give crime victims the right to deny defendants access to certain private information. In many cases, that wouldn’t affect the outcome of a trial. But it’s easy to envision how in other cases it could send an innocent defendant to prison.

Consider, for example, a purported victim who has been found in the past to be delusional or to be a pathological liar. That “victim” could testify against a defendant while refusing to allow the defendant access to information that would call the witness’ credibility into question.

A better option would be to allow victims the right to object to the disclosure of information — but not to attempt to block disclosure outright. A judge would decide what information is best kept confidential. The court, not the victim, should determine what evidence gets admitted in a trial.

Under current practice, prosecutors make decisions on behalf of victims. The amendment would allow victims to make that choice.

The amendment under discussion in the Senate is significantly improved from a version debated last year that contained more legal land mines. That’s a welcome development.

And we’re sympathetic to victims who are dissatisfied because their rights aren’t always enforced.

But we must tread warily when it comes to constitutional amendments, which must be approved by both houses of the Legislature and then by the voters in a referendum.

Keep in mind that were it to become obvious that an exception should be made to a newly enacted amendment, the fix could not be made by the Legislature. Yet another constitutional amendment would be required.

Every victim of a crime deserves justice. And every defendant de­serves a fair and full day in court, with no relevant evidence excluded.

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