It’s a little known irony that crime victims often have to fight for the “right” merely to be considered victims in the eyes of the court.

It’s different for criminals.  When someone commits a crime, their rights expand exponentially.  The worse the crime, the more legal protection the offender receives.  Foremost among the special rights granted only to offenders is the right to relentlessly appeal one’s case, a right that swells to parodic dimensions, subsidized in nearly every case by the taxpayers.  If the victim or their survivors are taxpayers, they pay for it, too.

So when some convicted rapist and killer appeals his sentence for the fifteenth time on the grounds that he was discriminated against when the prosecutor deigned to mention the future the murdered girl would never have (such speech is strictly regulated by judges, lest it “incite” jurors), then that dead girl’s parents, if they pay taxes, are literally forced to help pay the tab for their daughter’s rapist and murderer to stand in some courtroom disputing the metaphysical dimensions of their losses, for his gain.

Meanwhile, victims don’t have any right to demand that the courts even try their case in the first place.

They’re also helpless as the court decides who will be granted “standing” as victims at the outset.  This is an important decision because only victims with standing may offer impact statements or be informed of future parole hearings.  In other words, without standing at the start of the legal process, victims are permanently barred from testifying to keep their offender behind bars.

In an extremely unusual move requested by federal prosecutors, the family of murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry has been denied standing in the case of Jamie Avila.  Avila is charged with buying the gun that made it into the hands of Brian Terry’s killer — a federal crime.

But it wasn’t just any gun.  The gun that killed Terry was one of the guns involved in Operation Fast and Furious, a disastrous federal scheme to sell American guns to Mexican drug dealers in order to track the guns.  And because of this, the Terry family is caught in a political controversy.

Agent Brian A. Terry, killed in Arizona in December, 2010

Ordinarily, the Terry family’s request for standing would be routine, and prosecutors would be the ones supporting it, while the defense would be the ones trying to silence and exclude the victims.  But the Justice Department and the federal prosecutor assigned to the Avila case, who are deeply involved in the Operation Fast and Furious scandal, are the ones trying to deny the Terrys’ standing.

So we have a Justice Department that is trying to defend its own conduct in Fast and Furious deciding that the victims of their actions don’t count as victims:

In a surprise move in a controversial case, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona is opposing a routine motion by the family of murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry to qualify as crime victims in the eyes of the court.  The family asked to intervene as victims in the case against Jamie Avila, the 23-year-old Phoenix man who purchased the guns allegedly used to kill Terry. Such motions are routinely approved by prosecutors, but may be opposed by defense attorneys.  However in this case, U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke argues because the family was not “directly or proximately harmed” by the illegal purchase of the murder weapon, it does not meet the definition of “crime victim” in the Avila case. Burke claims the victim of the Avila’s gun purchases, “is not any particular person, but society in general.”

How does a U.S. Attorney justify doing such a thing?  A former U.S. Attorney in Florida named Kendall Coffey suggests that Burke may be trying to avoid further embarrassment and exposure to lawsuits.  Burke himself is expected to be called before Congress to explain the debacle, even as he prosecutes the Avila case:

“The government’s already been put on notice that they might be facing a wrongful death action by the family. And you have to wonder if the government’s efforts to deny the family the status of ‘crime victims’ is part of a strategy to avoid legal responsibility for some of the tragic mistakes of Operation Fast and Furious,” [Coffey] said.

Are political considerations outweighing the right of the Terry family to be heard at parole hearings, to consult with prosecutors, and to weigh in at sentencing?  This is an unfolding story that deserves more attention than it will probably receive.  Besides the Fox News story, former Congressman Tom Tancredo seems to be the only person commenting on this astonishing move by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Phoenix {link broken}.  [Update 8/12/11/11:39: Patrick Richardson has more here]

There are politics, and there is justice. This case is roiling with politics, but you can be sure the defendant’s rights will be respected nonetheless.  The same cannot be said for the treatment of Terry family.  Victims have precious few rights in the justice system without prosecutors withholding them for political reasons.

But making justice subservient to politics is precisely what Eric Holder does.  We have never had an Attorney General less suited for the job.