The criminal justice system has several functions in our society. In general, it is supposed to cover the accused, the victims, the witnesses, and the society as overall. To uphold its duty, it is imperative for the law and government to administer justice justly and effectively. In the United States, a growing clamor from its citizens says that the interests and rights of the crime victims should be given primary attention.
By definition, victim refers to the person who has suffered ‘emotional and/or physical harm, or economic loss as a result of the crime’. Tracing back the history, crime victims had only limited legal and basic rights under the criminal justice system— such as being informed, being present, and being heard. Thirty years ago, victims were not needed to be informed of court proceedings, they were not allowed to attend court trials, and they were not permitted to make statements to the court. In essence, criminal justice system for the victims is non-existent.
With societal advancements, tedious efforts in the creation of more tangible legal rights for the victims of crimes have been done. Now, every state in the U.S. has its own body of protection and victim basic rights which are primarily guided within the bounds of the state, federal, and a local criminal justice system.
Here, we have listed the basic legal rights of the victims that ensure their access to justice. This will make you understand your rights as a victim without hiring a criminal defense attorney in Corpus Christi or in California or any part of the world yet. However, the data provided below are just general outlines and overviews of the basic rights of a crime victim. This means laws may vary in scope and definition across states and countries.
Right to Be Informed
The criminal justice system generally provides information that benefits the crime victims. More so, the law grants the victims and/or their families the right to be informed of any important information of scheduled trials or proceedings. This general information includes:
- Notice of crime victim compensation availability
- Victim services referrals (e.g. rape crisis center, battered women’s shelters, etc.)
- Criminal prosecution procedures
- Contact information for prosecutors or any individuals from the criminal justice system.
- Various legal rights (i.e. attend proceedings, submit statements, have court orders, and collect witness fees)
Apart from the list, the victim has also the right to notified about parole proceeding that may involve the crime per se or any release/escape of the offender.
Right to Attend
Crime victims have the option to be actively involved or to remain anonymous. However, in any circumstances, they should be granted the right to have access to the justice system by allowing them to attend procedures that ensure the information and opportunities to be heard without prejudice. Attending proceedings covers your rights to attend trials, sentencing, and/or parole hearings. In some cases, other US states provide the crime victims the right to attend proceedings where a defendant has the right to be present.
In other circumstances, crime victim’s right to attend trials are limited in cases where the victim is also the witness. Laws exclude witnesses from appearing in the trial. Doing such avoids the possibility of influencing the witness from testimonies of other witnesses within the court.
During proceedings, crime victims may have support persons like their family member or any trusted person. Family members can express the love and reverence they have for the victim through participation in criminal prosecutions.
Right to Participation
Aside from simply being able to attend proceedings, crime victims should be heard during criminal justice proceedings. Victims have the right to be proactive in the whole legal process such as plea, sentencing, appeal, probation, release, or parole hearings. Participation ensures the victims that the harm they may have suffered has been recognized by the court.
In the US, 33 states allow its victims to presents their views and concerns at suitable and proper stages of the criminal proceedings. In several jurisdictions, laws require prosecutors to gather victim’s views before the final disposition. This process may be applied whether it involves the dismissal of charges, plea agreement, or a pre-trial diversion of the offender.
Right to Privacy
Privacy and security are two crucial things to be maintained throughout the process. Victims are often impeded from seeking justice because of their fear of getting harassed from the offenders. Instances such as scheduled release, or escape, of the offender may cause anxiety on the victim. Furthermore, here is a list of personal information that victims have the right to protect to:
- Names or identity
- Personal address
- Contact number
- Employment address
Victims are also suggested to take the following forms in order to protect the above mentioned information and any other related information confined in the legal records:
- Prohibition against compelling testimonies that contain personal information
- Limited disclosure or omission of identifying information from court records (i.e. court material, law enforcement reports, and prosecution documents)
- Protection from publicizing addresses or personal contact numbers for notice resolutions
Right to Protection
As mentioned earlier, victim’s security should also be ensured in the entire process. Here are some common protective measures provided by the laws:
- Laws grant you the right to be escorted to and from the court by the police.
- You have the right to have separate and secure waiting areas during court proceedings.
- You have the right to be in witness/victim protection programs
- You have to the right to be relocated.
- You have the right to deny bail or imposition of certain bail release for offenders.
- Law also grants you the right to protect your work and economic status.
Right to Speedy Trial
By legal definition, “speedy” trial” refers to the disposition of the case without unreasonable delay. This means that there should be fewer continuances, or court-ordered delays, in court proceedings. In some instances, continuances can also thwart victims from seeking justice. This often causes dissatisfaction or causes victims to lose hope.
Right to Restitution and Compensation
The law grants the victims of the crime to receive restitution and compensation to refurbish the damage caused by the offender. This includes payment of the harm endured, reimbursement of expenses sustained in the course of the misconduct.