Victim’s Rights: What Are They? How Do They Work?
In the criminal justice system, many victims and their families often feel like they have no voice in the process. Even President Ronald Regan felt ignored by the system after surviving an assassination attempt in 1981— so much so that he started National Crime Victims’ Week to emphasize the importance of victims’ involvement in the criminal justice system.
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During the last few decades, other crime victims have also pushed for progress in victim’s rights reform and have found some success. Here’s what you need to know about victims’ rights, adapted from Unthinkable by founding partner Kyle Bachus.
Who is considered a victim under the law?
Understanding who qualifies as a “victim” in the criminal justice system is essential before getting into the details of victims’ rights. Most states have similar definitions of a victim, which include:
- The person against whom the crime was committed
- If the victim is a minor, parents and legal guardians are also considered victims
- If the victim dies, immediate family members are also the victims
- When victims suffer a catastrophic injury that leaves them incapacitated, an appointed representative is also the victim
If you don’t fall into any of these categories but feel very strongly that you were victimized by a crime, you can file an appearance with the designated criminal court. You can ask the court to grant you victims’ rights according to your state’s law. Although you still may not qualify, it’s worth being proactive if you want the opportunity to exercise your rights.
What are the goals of victims’ rights in the criminal justice system?
The rights granted to crime victims are meant to give them the opportunity to:
- Be informed
- Be present
- Be heard
- Be supported
These four goals mean crime victims have the right to be involved in the criminal justice process from the start of the investigation to the trial and probation. Learn more about victims’ rights by state for details on what protections your state offers to crime victims.
Are there limitations to victims’ rights?
Although victims’ rights ensure they are part of the process and can be informed, present, heard, and supported, it does not give them any decision-making power in the justice system. In other words, crime victims do not have formal control over the steps of the case, including:
- The investigation
- Whether or not to file charges
- What charges to file
- Whether to negotiate a plea agreement
- How the case is tried
- What sentence is imposed
However, you can provide essential input to the police and prosecutors, who do have control over how the case is handled. It’s vital that you take your place at the table and let your words be heard by those with the power to make decisions.
Victims’ Rights and the Prosecutor
Crime victims have the right to be kept up to date and notified during crucial steps in the criminal justice process. These steps include when a case is opened, what the charges will be, who is prosecuting the case, courtroom information, and any opportunities to speak in court or with the prosecutor.
In most cases, the prosecutor and Department of Justice want to hear the victim’s side and help them get justice. If the prosecutor doesn’t reach out to you, you are well within your rights to take the initiative to request a meeting. Let them know you want to be involved and would like to help in whatever way you can.
Victims’ Rights and the Judge
Crime victims can also let the judge know they are engaged and want to be kept informed throughout the criminal justice process. Filing an entry of appearance document identifies you as the victim of the crime and ensures that the court knows you want to be advised of all the proceedings during the case.
When you inform the court of your presence, the judge is required to ask if you wish to be heard during certain stages of the case. If you decide to attend the proceedings, you will have the opportunity to speak directly to the court on the matter.
Victims’ Rights After Conviction
If the accused is convicted and sentenced for the crime, victims’ rights mean you can stay informed of any actions regarding that person. Some examples include:
- If there is a transfer, release or escape
- Upcoming probation hearings
- Early termination of probation
- Notification of other outcomes
Where can victims get support?
Crime victims suffer in more ways than one. They often feel helpless or alone after a crime. Victims who lost a family member due to the crime are often left with unpaid bills and the devastating task of trying to rebuild their lives without their loved ones. However, there is support available for victims.
First, check with your state’s victim services to see if you have access to a crime victim compensation fund to help with lost wages, childcare, funeral expenses, and more. You may also qualify for government benefits and should apply to receive these funds.
Also, you should consider bringing a wrongful death claim or catastrophic injury claim for compensation. You deserve financial support for your injuries, pain and suffering. Speak with a catastrophic injury lawyer to learn more about your legal options and what your claim may be worth.
Working With a Personal Injury Lawyer
If you are a victim of wrongful death, catastrophic injury, or other personal injuries, our team can help. Our compassionate and supportive catastrophic injury attorneys and wrongful death lawyers will advocate on your behalf and ensure you get the maximum compensation for your losses.
We have locations throughout Colorado to help victims get justice:
Contact our law firm to schedule a FREE consultation to learn more about our legal services.
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Written and Legally Reviewed By: Kyle Bachus
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Kyle is a member of the Colorado and Florida Bar associations and has served on the Board of Directors of the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association for more than twenty years in total. Over the years, Kyle has achieved justice for many clients. He has served on numerous committees and repeatedly won recognition from his peers at both the state and national level. He is proud of the role he has played in the passage of state and national legislation to protect consumers and is a frequent speaker and guest lecturer.