Surviving The Criminal Justice System
Often an individual's first encounter with the criminal justice system is when they become the victim of a crime. For most crime victims, navigating through the court system can be a daunting experience. Most victims that are new to the workings of the criminal justice system may become angry and frustrated. You may feel that laws you thought were designed to protect you are really designed to protect criminals. You may wonder if the victim has any rights.
People naturally want to see justice done swiftly so they can begin to heal from that part of the trauma. But the criminal justice system often seems to prolong people's grief. Justice does not always prevail. Many homicide cases are never solved, even if the identity of the offender is known. Survivors often find that arrests do not always result in prosecution; prosecutions do not always result in convictions, and convictions do not consistently result in stiff sentences. The criminal justice process can be slow, may take years, or even decades if the defendant continues to appeal the court’s decision. Some survivors may find that participating in the criminal justice process is an additional source of stress in their already stressful lives. Others feel positive about their involvement, and with final sentencing, gain a sense of closure. Sometimes, the only ones serving a "life sentence" are the victim’s loved ones.
The best thing you can do is to learn your rights and learn what to expect so you can make informed decisions.
Crime Victim Rights
In recent years, the victims' movement has sought to re-establish a place for the victim in the American criminal justice process and to enhance the rights of crime victims. It is important to note that the thrust of the victims' movement has been to increase the rights of victims, not to eliminate or reduce the rights of criminal defendants.
Thanks to the efforts of victim rights groups, crime victims no longer get lost or forgotten in the criminal justice process. Almost every state in the U.S. has passed laws that protect the victims of a crime. Though all states have some provisions for the rights of crime victims, the scope and strength of these provisions can vary greatly from state to state. Victims' rights often include:
- The right to notification of the stages/ proceedings in the criminal process;
- The right to attend and/or participate in criminal justice proceedings;
- The right to notification of other legal remedies
- The right to protection from intimidation and harassment;
- The right to notice of the release or escape of the offender;
- The right to privacy, including confidentiality of records;
- The right to speedy trial provisions;
- The right to confer or discuss the case with the prosecutor;
- The right to prompt return of the victim's personal property seized as evidence;
- Crime Victim Compensation and restitution.