What is a Victim Lawyer?
A lawyer is an individual who is professionally licensed to practice law. A lawyer may also be called an attorney or an attorney at law.
Practicing law means assisting clients with their legal issues, questions, and concerns, and performing tasks including:
- Representing a client in a court of law;
- Counseling a client on their legal issue or issues;
- Researching laws;
- Pleading in court;
- Analyzing evidence to be used in trial;
- Engaging in discovery, meaning obtaining documents for trial;
- Requesting an appeal, if available;
- Requesting damages for a client’s injuries; and
- Engaging in criminal defense or prosecution.
A victim’s rights attorney, or victim attorney, is an attorney who represents victims of crime and their interests. Individuals who are permitted to exercise victim’s rights include those who have been directly harmed by a crime which was committed by the defendant, or the accused.
In some states, victim’s rights only apply to a victim of a felony or a serious felony. Other states also provide victim’s rights to a victim of a misdemeanor crime.
Certain states allow family members of homicide victims or parents or guardians of minors to exercise victim’s rights. If this is the case, the representative of the victim will receive the same protections and rights as the victim would.
An individual can benefit from hiring a victim of crime lawyer because a lawyer may assist them with:
- Having an increased chance of receiving restitution;
- Advocating for stronger punishments; and
- Filing a civil court case based on the same incident as the criminal case.
In criminal cases, restitution is a monetary amount that is paid by the defendant to the victim to compensate them for losses they suffered as a result of the crime. Criminal restitution is considered a part of the defendant’s sentence.
Criminal restitution is often paid out in small monthly installments to cover costs including:
- Medical bills, hospital costs, and other expenses;
- Property damage; and
- The property stolen, or an equivalent amount.
In some cases, the prosecution may make a plea deal with a defendant, which often includes a lesser sentence. Having a victim advocate attorney objecting to plea deals and lesser sentences may result in a more severe sentence for the defendant.
In some cases, a criminal offense incident may be the basis for both a criminal charge and a civil lawsuit. For example, an assault may form the basis for criminal charges as well as a civil lawsuit for assault.
What Rights do Victims have?
The rights of victims of crimes are protected by both state law and federal law. These laws require that crime victims be provided certain information, protections, and have a limited role in the criminal justice process.
Many individuals are familiar with the rights of the defendant in a criminal case, such as the right to an attorney and the right not to make incriminating statements. The rights of a victim may not be as clear.
Although they differ by state, 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; and
- Requests and statements can be submitted to the parole officer or parole board.
Some of the rights provided to crime victims involve ensuring their safety and protection. For example, it is important that a victim be informed of a defendant’s parole eligibility so that they can be notified if the defendant is likely to reappear in the same community.
In addition, there are some states that maintain victim’s compensation funds that provide financial assistance of victims for resources such as counseling. Almost two-thirds of the states have passed amendments to their state constitutions which guarantee the rights of crime victims.
Some state amendments provide a few broad rights while other amendments provide victims with a long list of rights. Although the political system makes an effort to protect and empower crime victims, there are limitations on how much consideration victims may receive.
The rights of crime victims cannot exceed the rights of criminal defendants. A criminal defendant has the right to confront their accuser in court.
Defendants are presumed innocent until they are proven guilty. They also have the right to a fair trial.
It is important to note that while a crime victim has the right to participate in the criminal proceedings, the duty of a criminal prosecutor is to society as a whole. Therefore, a prosecutor still retains their discretion to make a plea bargain, what crime to charge, and what trial strategies to use.
Criminal proceedings are designed to punish a criminal defendant for their conduct. In some cases, a victim’s ability to collect restitution may be limited in a criminal trial.
Because of this, many victims go to civil court to try and collect restitution from the defendant.
How do I Find Victim Lawyers Near Me?
If an individual or someone they know has been a victim of a crime, they may be interested in locating a victim lawyer. There are many ways to locate a lawyer for a victim of a crime, including:
- Asking friends and family for recommendations;
- Looking in the phone book;
- Using a lawyer referral service;
- Contacting the local legal aid service;
- Contacting the state bar association; and
- Online searches.
One excellent resource for an individual who is searching for a victim’s advocate attorney near them is LegalMatch. LegalMatch provides a free service that allows an individual to search for an attorney in their area in as little as fifteen minutes.
Within twenty four hours of presenting their case, an individual will receive responses from pre-screened attorneys who are ready to begin helping on their case. These responses will include the attorney’s:
- Background and education;
- Experience; and
- Reviews from other clients.
Do I Need a Crime Victim Attorney?
Individuals who are victims of a crime may feel like the criminal justice system is leaving them behind when addressing their needs or desires for the outcome of the case. Many victims are not aware that the defendant is entitled to an attorney and will be provided one if necessary and that the district attorney's office will be prosecuting the case.
Although, in many cases, a prosecutor may have the same goals for the case as the victim, such as jail time and restitution, the goals of a victim may also be in direct conflict with the desires of the state.
Many jurisdictions have victim advocacy programs or victim’s advocates employed by the district attorney’s office. Being a part of the district attorney’s office may influence that advice and counseling a victim receives related to their case.
If you feel like your goals as a crime victim are different from those of the prosecutor, it may be helpful to hire your own victim’s rights attorney.