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. Please take a look at the "trial book" below for important information about navigating the criminal justice system.
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. Here is the Arizona Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights.
To preserve and protect victims' rights to justice and due process, a victim of 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 the 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 a speedy trial or disposition and prompt and final conclusion of the case after the conviction and sentence.
- To have all rules governing criminal procedure and the admissibility of evidence in all criminal proceedings protect victims' rights and to have these rules be subject to amendment or repeal by the legislature to ensure the protection of these rights.
- To be informed of victims' constitutional rights.