Trish Tanner: Honoring, supporting victims of crime
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is celebrated annually in April to highlight crime victims’ rights and stories of strength. This article has been written to honor all crime victims, locally and nationally, and provide more information about the importance of crime victims’ rights.
Victimization is more common than one may think. In 2018, our small team of victim advocates guided over 620 people through the criminal justice system, providing 5,747 services. The 620 community members potentially included your grocery clerk, your neighbor, your favorite barista, or your best friend.
Marsy Nicholas, for which the rights are named, was the victim of a violent crime by her ex-boyfriend in 1983 in Santa Barbara, California. Marsy was a young college student with a bright future. The defendant stalked Marsy and violently took her life in 1983. Unbeknownst to the family, Marsy’s ex-boyfriend (the offender) was released from custody shortly after the criminal case began. They were shocked and alarmed when they saw him in a local grocery store. So shocked in fact, that they decided things needed to change.
At that time, in 1983, courts and law enforcement were under no obligation to notify the victim’s family of offender releases from jail. Prior to the passing of Marsy’s Law, offenders of crimes seemingly had more rights and protections under the constitution than victims did. While victims and their families had some rights, they were not legally enforceable, and rarely recognized by courts and law enforcement agencies.
Marsy’s Law was voted for by the People of California under Proposition 9 in 2008 and became a part of Article 1, Section 28(b) of the California Constitution. Marsy’s Law expanded the rights already in place from the Victims’ Bill of Rights Act. It intends to provide all victims with rights throughout the criminal justice process. Marsy’s Law supports victims through the process of honoring them and their experiences; considering their safety in and out of the criminal justice system; and providing them with more ways to participate in the process.
All of victims’ rights under Marsy’s Law are at the direction of the judicial officer. Judges have the ability to approve or deny a victims’ rights request. This is in place in order to protect the victim, the offender, and the integrity of the criminal justice process as a whole. For this reason California has decided that each county should employ victim advocates. Our dedicated role is to not only to empower and support victims, but also to keep them as informed as possible throughout the often murky, and sometimes triggering, experience.
Marsy’s Law consist of 17 rights. I will highlight just a few of those rights:
To be treated with fairness and respect by all parties involved in the criminal process.
To be able to address the court on safety concerns in the setting of bail and release conditions. This can be accomplished through a victim advocate, probation officer, or the prosecution.
To request to meet with the peoples’ attorney (deputy district attorneys) and be informed of plea offers (resolutions) before they are presented to the court.
To be reasonably informed of all public hearings (not all hearings are public and therefore are not included in Marsy’s Law).
To be present and express their views at criminal proceedings.
To be informed of the offender’s conviction, sentence, incarceration, release, and escape from custody through their victim advocate or other notification agencies.
In my view, all of the 17 rights are important; however, one stands out in promoting the healing process: the right to express opinions, concerns, and wishes to the judge, often known as the Victim Impact Statement. It is incredibly important for a court to hear and consider these statements. Sharing Victim Impact Statements can also be cathartic for victims involved in traumatic crimes.
I also believe that the right to meet with the prosecution can be beneficial to victims. The right to talk with prosecution provides victims with the knowledge that the team has considered their viewpoint. As a victim advocate, I often organize meetings with my clients and the prosecutor. After these meetings, I consistently receive feedback on how much more informed and supported the victims feel by our team.
If you would like to learn more about crime victims’ rights and/or victim services, I encourage you to reach out to us. We are a non-biased, free-of-cost agency. We want to help those who have been victimized to recover and move forward in a positive direction. Please call us at 530-265-1301.
*Please note, I use terminology in this article that derives from the criminal justice system. When I speak of “victim” I am describing the person who was the target or affected most by the crime. The “offender” describes the perpetrator of the crime.
Trish Tanner is senior victim advocate for the Nevada County District Attorney’s Office.
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