Victims' Rights Honored By Law

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Defendants are not the only ones afforded rights within the justice system. The Gila County Board of Supervisors has proclaimed April 18 through April 25 as National Victim's Rights Week.

In 1990, the Arizona legislature amended the state constitution to include more specific rights for victims of crime, Gila County Victim's Services Coordinator Vivian Allison said.

"Victims of crimes committed by adults or juveniles are given rights under the state constitution, Arizona case law and court rules," Allison said. "Victims of crimes have a right to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity and to be free from intimidation, harassment or abuse throughout the criminal justice process."

Allison said her staff at the Gila County Attorney's Office provides support and advocacy for victims.

"Our role is to ensure, to the best of our ability, that the victim has a voice in the outcome of the prosecution," Allison said. "That any resolution of the case will help the victim find closure."

The agencies

The first contact a victim has is most often a law enforcement officer, and Payson Police Lt. Don Engler said it's crucial to treat a victim with empathy and respect.

"The philosophy of our department is to do everything we can to ensure the victims of a crime are not revictimized," Engler said. "They've already been a victim once and we sure don't want the criminal investigation process or the actions of the department to further victimize them in any way, shape or form."

Prosecutors also follow that philosophy when trying a case.

"During proceedings against a defendant, we work to ensure that the process, itself, does not further victimize anyone," Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores said. "In every case, we treat the victim with dignity and respect"

Flores said she understands the limits of the justice system in healing the physical and psychological wounds that many victims suffer after a crime.

"When we prosecute a defendant for a crime wherein a victim has suffered financial, physical or emotional harm, it is our obligation by statute to see that the victim is compensated for their loss," Flores said. "Yet, compensating a victim for a loss is often something that the criminal system cannot provide."

Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill said a victim's presence and participation in the court proceedings is valuable to his consideration of consequences.

"Victims of crimes in Arizona may attend any court hearing that the defendant attends," Cahill said.

"Attendance at sentencing and the participation of victims in this part of the process is especially important. Not only does a victim of a crime have a right to be heard, but what they say about how the crime has affected them must be considered."

Rights request, impact statement

Two documents that reinforce the rights of victims are the rights request and impact statement.

The police provide the rights request form in which the victim can either assert or waive their rights.

According to Gila County jail supervisor Sgt. Doreen Spychala, filling out and signing the rights form ensures that a victim will be notified when the defendant is released from custody.

The victim impact statement, which can be oral or written, allows the victim to tell the judge the pain, anguish and devastation the crime has caused.

Allison said a victim also can give his or her opinion on what should happen to the defendant -- if the suspect should they be sentenced to prison or get probation or probation with restitution.

Victim's Bill of Rights

A victim of a crime has a right to:

  • Be treated with fairness, respect and dignity and to be free from intimidation, harassment or abuse throughout the criminal justice process.
  • 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 when 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 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 have a speedy trial or disposition and prompt and final conclusion of the case after conviction and sentence.
  • To have all rules governing criminal procedure and the admissibility of evidence in all criminal proceedings protect victim's rights and to have these rules be subject to amendment or repeal by the legislature to ensure the protection of these rights.
  • To seek an order to bring special action if any right afforded under the constitution was intentionally or negligently violated.
  • To file an appeal if a victim feels the case was handled improperly or objects to the outcome of the case, such as a court's order of restitution or a defendant's release. The prosecutor can file such an appeal on a victim's behalf, at their request.

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