The United States and Arizona Constitutions provides critical and fundamental rights to everyone. These constitutional protections are the foundation of our criminal justice system. In addition to the important and necessary rights given to those accused of a crime, the Arizona Constitution also provides rights and protections to all those who are victims of crime. Unfortunately, too often victims are often the ones most overlooked in the criminal justice system. Being overlooked will often cause a victim to feel that they do not have a voice or are otherwise unimportant and even mistreated by police officers, attorneys, judges, and other people who make their living in the criminal justice system. The reason they are overlooked is not intentional or malicious, but often due to well meaning people being too busy to give victims the personal attention they not only want, but to which they are entitled.
No one expects to be the victim of a crime. Whether one is a victim or the family member of a victim of a theft, a burglary, an assault, a sexual offense, or a murder, there can be significant emotional, psychological, financial, and physical trauma. Victims and their family members often deal with so many unwanted, unexpected, and unfamiliar things as a result of the crime. One of those unwanted, unexpected, and unfamiliar things is often the criminal justice system. They are thrust into a world with which they have little or no experience; a world with its own culture, rules, and procedures. In most cases, they enter that world the first moment they call or have contact with a police officer, and they continue in the unfamiliar and confusing world of criminal justice for months and even many years.
It can be particularly difficult for child victims to understand and navigate the criminal justice system.
Understanding the criminal justice world and what to expect as the victim or the loved one of a victim can reduce some of the emotional and psychological trauma that is part of being the victim of a crime. Here are a few important things to know to help navigate the criminal justice world:
- Victims of crimes have (insert hyperlink constitutional rights – http://www.azleg.gov/FormatDocument.asp?inDoc=/const/2/2_1.htm)– While important, these rights are unfortunately limited to the following:
- To be treated with fairness, respect, and dignity, and to be free from intimidation, harassment, or abuse, throughout the criminal justice process. Unfortunately, this right seems more of a hollow platitude and is so vaguely worded to make the enforcement of this right difficult – especially when the victim doesn’t have their own attorney to represent them.
- To be informed, upon request, when the accused or convicted person is released from custody or has escaped.
- To be present at and, upon request, to be informed of all criminal proceedings where the defendant has the right to be present.
- To be heard at any proceeding involving a post-arrest release decision, a negotiated plea, and sentencing.
- To refuse an interview, deposition, or other discovery request by the defendant, the defendant’s attorney, or other person acting on behalf of the defendant.
- To confer with the prosecution, after the crime against the victim has been charged, before trial or before any disposition of the case and to be informed of the disposition.
- To read pre-sentence reports relating to the crime against the victim when they are available to the defendant.
- To receive prompt restitution from the person or persons convicted of the criminal conduct that caused the victim’s loss or injury.
- To be heard at any proceeding when any post-conviction release from confinement is being considered.
- To a speedy trial or disposition and prompt and final conclusion of the case after the conviction and sentence.
- A victim is not a party to the case – This seems odd, but it is true. You will notice the name of the case is The State of Arizona v. (insert defendant’s name). The only two parties are the State and the defendant. The defendant gets an attorney, and the state will be represented by a prosecutor. This fact can contribute to a victim feeling overlooked and marginalized.
- A victim does not press charges – Related to #1 above, a victim does not make the decision whether to press charges. Often this creates difficulty, especially when the person who is accused or charged was a loved one.
- The prosecutor is not the victim’s attorney – Hopefully a prosecutor will have the same goals and objectives as the victim in a crime, but unfortunately, this is not always the case. The victim may want the defendant to receive a more severe plea offer or sentence than the prosecutor is offering. In other cases, the victim may want mercy for the defendant and feel he should be given a more lenient plea offer or sentence. Often the victim has more information than the police or prosecutor and might be in a better position than police or prosecutors to know what might be best for the victim, the defendant, and even the community.
- Victims are not appointed an attorney – Although the defendant will be given an attorney to make sure his/her important and constitutional rights are protected, the victim will not be given an attorney to make sure his or her important and constitutional rights are protected. Prosecution and law enforcement agencies have great victim services offices with many resources. Each victim will be appointed a hard working and competent victim advocate to provide information and assistance. These advocates are employees of the law enforcement and prosecution agencies and are not attorneys. As such, sometimes these advocates are limited with the assistance they can provide victims.
Victims are free to hire attorneys to represent them and ensure that their rights are protected. A victim’s rights attorney can also interact with law enforcement and prosecutors to make advocate the victim’s position and advocate on behalf of the victim. A victim’s rights attorney can also help the victim seek and obtain restitution and recover damages for the financial, emotion, and physical harm suffered by the crime.
The attorneys at Rowley Long & Simmons have significant experience with the criminal justice system. Their prior law enforcement and prosecution experience makes them uniquely qualified to represent victims of crimes. This past experience includes dozens of crimes involving significant financial loss, child crimes and sexual offense, and serious injuries and death. These attorneys also have significant experience and training talking to and assisting child victim and witnesses, and can help guide children and their family members as they navigate the unexpected, unwanted, and unfamiliar world of the criminal justice system.
Other resources for victims can be found below: