Press-Republican

September 24, 2012

The rights of crime victims

By PENNY CLUTE
Press-Republican

---- — No one wants to be a crime victim. 

Whether the offense is committed by a relative, friend or stranger, being assaulted, abused or stolen from shakes the victim’s world.

 In many ways, it is so much worse if it is your spouse or partner who is hurting you or your child or who is stealing from you.

You want it to stop. You want the person to get help, but meet with resistance. You worry about your safety.

Holding the person accountable and preventing him or her from victimizing you or anyone else again is crucial. Although you may be reluctant to do so, calling the police may be the best thing to do.

TREATMENT

A judge can order a defendant to get needed mental-health or substance-abuse treatment.

You may avoid the police because you do not want to see the person locked up, but sometimes jail can be a wakeup call and teach an important lesson. A short period in jail, followed by treatment and probation, could be the keys to change.

PROTECTION

When you file a charge with the police or in Family Court, you can request an order of protection from the judge, asking either that the defendant not contact you at all or allow contact that is not abusive. The only way to get an order of protection is to bring a charge. Violating an order is a new crime.

New York has a law called Fair Treatment Standards for Crime Victims. It requires notification of many subjects, including available emergency care and counseling, compensation, court proceedings and whether the defendant is released from jail.

GUIDING DECISIONS

As the victim, you definitely have rights. One is the prompt return of stolen property that has been recovered, unless there is a compelling reason to keep it for trial.

You can also have some say in what happens to the defendant. In many felony cases, including all violent felonies, the District Attorney’s Office must ask the victim’s views about disposition before dismissing the case, accepting a guilty plea or deciding to go to trial.

The DA must also seek the victim’s input about the release or custody status of a defendant who has been indicted and explain sentencing alternatives, such as probation and restitution, as well as jail.

Many DAs will try to reach victims in all cases. Thus, it is important that you provide the DA’s Office with your contact information. It is best to do this promptly after the defendant is arrested, so the DA knows you are interested, that you want to talk with them and want to be kept informed.

You may also have valuable information to provide the prosecutor about the defendant, such as treatment needs, past violence or behavior after the arrest, like apologies, threats or constant texting.

IMPACT STATEMENTS

In many cases, the judge orders a presentence report from probation before sentencing. The victim has the right to submit a written impact statement. This can be prepared and sent to probation or it can be done at the probation office with their help.

As a judge, I read many of these statements, and it had a powerful impact to see in the victim’s own words what the defendant did and the effect it has had on the victim’s life since.

FINANCIAL HELP

When there is a conviction, restitution for losses or injuries caused by the crime must be part of the sentence. This includes your out-of-pocket costs for medical bills, counseling, funeral, replacement of damaged or stolen property, insurance deductible, changing locks, as well as loss of earnings.

Another way a victim can be reimbursed is through the New York State Office of Victim Services. In addition to the kinds of losses that a judge can order, that office can pay for forensic rape exams for victims of sexual assault, crime scene cleanup, moving expenses and vocational rehabilitation.

Sometimes, loving support turns into enabling, giving permission to criminal behavior. The best step may be the painful one of having your loved one arrested.

In that case, the victim will not be alone but can have some protection and some input, as well.

Penny Clute has been an attorney since 1973. She was the Clinton County district attorney from 1989 through 2001, then Plattsburgh City Court judge until she retired in January 2012. 

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CRIME VICTIM RESOURCES

District attorneys:

Additional Resources: