Victim’s Rights in a Criminal Case

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 What Are a Victim's Rights in a Criminal Case?

Most people know that the accused in a criminal case has many rights, like the right to an attorney and the right not to make any incriminating statements. In criminal cases, many people are unclear about the victim’s rights. Any victim in a criminal case has several rights and protections.

These may differ by state, but the rights of crime victims generally include:

  • Informed consent to court proceedings related to their criminal case;
  • Having the right to be informed of any negotiations or plea offers being made to the defendant;
  • During sentencing, the defendant has the right to make statements to the judge and the court;
  • The right to request that a defendant pay restitution as a result of their criminal conduct (especially where the defendant has been convicted)
  • A right to be informed of any sentences imposed on a convicted offender;
  • The right to be informed if the defendant has been or will be paroled if they have indeed been sentenced to jail or prison
  • Requests and statements can be submitted to the parole officer or parole board

Therefore, many of the rights provided to victims in criminal cases have to do with ensuring their safety and protection. It is important that the victim knows the defendant’s parole eligibility so that they can be notified if the defendant is likely to reappear in the same community.

Also, some states maintain victim’s compensation funds, which provide financial assistance to victims for resources like counseling.

Victims’ Rights Constitutional Amendments

Nearly two-thirds of the states have passed amendments to their state constitutions guaranteeing the rights of victims of crime in addition to statutory rights. The inclusion of victims’ rights in state constitutions increases the strength, permanence, and enforceability of victims’ rights. Some state amendments provide a few broad rights, while others provide victims with a long list of rights.

Constitutional rights are stronger than those derived from statutes alone. By incorporating victims’ rights into constitutions, those rights become more permanent. A state or federal legislature can change a statute at any time.

Contrary to this, changing the constitution of a state or the Constitution of the United States is relatively difficult.

Constitutional amendments must be passed by two-thirds of each house of the legislature in most states. A legislative election is often held between votes, usually at least twice. It is necessary to pass identical language every time.

Ratification of the amendment is then sought at a general election. In most states, it takes several years to adopt a constitutional amendment. Therefore, once crime victims’ rights are incorporated into a state’s constitution, they are likely to remain there forever.

Furthermore, victims’ rights are generally enforced when they are given constitutional protections. A court can usually order a state official or agency to comply with the constitution if they violate constitutional rights.

Despite the fact that there is no amendment to the Constitution providing for the rights of crime victims, the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), legislated as part of the Justice for All Act of 2004, cements the rights of crime victims in federal criminal justice proceedings, and gives victims and prosecutors the grounds to enforce those rights.

Who May Exercise Victims’ Rights?

The federal, state, or tribal codes define a victim’s rights. Some jurisdictions restrict these rights to victims of felonies, while others allow victims of any violent crime, felony, or misdemeanor, to exercise them.

Victims’ rights are also extended to surviving family members of homicide victims or to the parents, guardians, or other relatives of minors, disabled or incompetent victims. In some states, it is possible for a victim’s legal representative or another person designated by the victim to exercise the victim’s rights on their behalf.

Aside from general rights for crime victims, many jurisdictions have created special rights for certain groups of crime victims. Among these are victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking, or human trafficking, as well as elderly, young, and disabled individuals.

Right To Attend

In most jurisdictions, crime victims and their families are allowed to attend criminal justice proceedings. Victims often want to see how the criminal justice system works, so this right is important to them. It may be interesting for them to hear counsel’s arguments and observe the reactions of the judge, jury, and defendant.

What Proceedings May Victims Attend?

The offender’s trials, sentencing, and parole hearings are generally included in the victim’s right to attend proceedings, but other proceedings may also be included. Victims have the right to attend proceedings at which defendants have the right to be present in some states.

Exclusion of Witnesses

If a victim is also a witness in the criminal case, their right to attend the trial may be limited. A long-standing rule of evidence allows witnesses to be excluded from the trial, or “sequestered.” This is to prevent witnesses from being influenced by other witnesses.

Depending on the jurisdiction, some jurisdictions require the exclusion of any witness at the request of a party, while others allow the judge to make the decision. There is an increasing trend in courts to allow victims to remain in the courtroom even as witnesses or to require the court to rule that the victim’s testimony is likely to be swayed by the testimony of other witnesses before removing the victim.

Support Persons Present

It may be beneficial for crime victims to have a support person present during court proceedings. Crime victims may be able to better exercise their right to be present during proceedings with the support of a trusted advocate or family member. A number of states recognize the right to have an advocate or support person present during proceedings.

Employment Protection While Attending Proceedings

Most states have adopted laws protecting the employment of victims involved in court-related activities.

In some states, victims’ employment is only protected when they are subpoenaed to appear in court.

In some cases, employment protection is provided when the victim attends hearings or consults with the prosecutor before trial.

Specific victims who miss work due to court appearances, doctor’s appointments, or counseling sessions are prohibited from being terminated or penalized by their employers.

What Are the Victim’s Rights after the Offender Is Released?

After the offender has been released from prison or jail, the victim may have various rights.

Among them are:

  • The right to be informed of any important parole decisions or proceedings;
  • Having specific rights regarding parole, probation, and early release programs explained;
  • Several states provide victims with the right to speak with a “victim’s rights officer,” who is appointed by the prosecutor’s office to provide counseling and guidance.

It is common for defendants to be required to register with a criminal database, such as a sex offender registry. After release from prison, the defendant may need to provide important information, such as their address. By using online database registries, the victim will also have access to such information.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Victim’s Rights in a Criminal Case?

Victims’ rights may vary by state and depending on the nature of the criminal case. If you have any questions or need advice regarding your rights in a criminal case, you should speak with a criminal lawyer immediately.

You can learn more about your rights from an experienced attorney according to the specific laws in your area. They can help you avoid errors or oversights caused by not knowing which rights you have.

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