Victims of crime have access to a set of laws established by all states and federal governments and classified as victims rights. These laws allow the victims access to certain information, protection and a limited role in the processes of criminal justice. Victims rights are governed by the laws of the area where the crime is being investigated and prosecuted. This could be the state, federal, tribal government or even a military installation.
Who has the option of exercising victims rights?
A victim has been defined as the individual who faced the consequences of a crime by another person. Some states restrict victims rights only to the victims of felonies while others are granting legal rights even to victims of misdemeanors. Certain states are allowing family members of a homicide victim including the parent or the guardian of a minor, incompetent or a person with disabilities to exercise victims rights on behalf of the harmed individual.
Mentioned below is a list of basic victims rights provided by the law in most jurisdictions but the rights vary according to federal, state or tribal law.
Victims rights require the victim to be treated with dignity, respect, and sensitivity
Victims are generally afforded the right to be treated with dignity, courtesy, fairness, and care by the law-enforcement agencies and other officials during the entire process of criminal justice. This right is included within the Constitution’s of most states. Each have amendments for victims rights which are also included in the statutes of more than 50% of the states.
The impact of the statements made by victims is an opportunity to describe to the court the effect of the crime on their lives during the time the decision for the crime is being made by the court or even during parole hearings. The victim may state how they were impacted and provide a description of the psychological, financial, physical, and emotional harm they experienced as a result of the crime.
The statement made by the victim may be used by a judge to determine the sentence of the offender. The statement may also be used by the parole board when deciding whether to grant parole to the offender and the kind of conditions which should be imposed when releasing the offender.
Individuals who utilized victims rights have reported that making the statements improved their satisfaction with the process of criminal justice and assisted them in recovering from the crime.
Some states have a stipulation that the prosecutor must have a discussion with the victim before important decisions are made. However, in most states, it is the prosecutor and not the victim who makes decisions about the case.
Victims rights give the victim the option to be informed
The purpose of victims rights is to ensure that the victims have all the information needed to exercise their rights in order to seek services and resources which may be available for their help. Victims have been given the right to receive information about victims rights, compensation along available resources, the methods to contact the officials of the criminal justice system and what they can expect from the criminal justice system. Victims rights also allow the harmed individuals to receive information about important events in their cases. Some of the laws in the state differ but most states ensure that victims are provided notice of the following events:
- The arrest and arraignment of the offender.
- Bail and pretrial proceedings.
- Dismissal of charges.
- Plea bargains.
- Trial, sentencing, and appeals.
- Probation and parole hearings.
- Release or escape of the offender.
Information about any of the above can be provided to the victims and the methods used include using snail mail or electronic methods to provide updates on the offender to the victim.
States have made significant progress in keeping victims of crime informed about their offenders and it is for this reason that the statutes of victims rights are being given the importance it deserves.