The United States Department of Justice, or DOJ, has enumerated 10 primary rights that accrue to a victim of crime. These are:
- Right to attend
- Right to be informed
- Right to restitution
- Right to enforcement of victim remedies
- Right to compensation
- Right to privacy
- Right to return of property
- Right to be heard
- Right to protection
- Right to a speedy trial
We turn first to the all-important right of a victim to attend court proceedings associated with the prosecution of the alleged perpetrator of a crime.
Proceedings the Victim Has the Right to Attend
There are some variations from one state to another in the U.S.A. in regard to what specific court proceedings in a criminal prosecution a victim of the underlying crime the right to attend. In California, a victim has the right to attend criminal proceedings that include:
- Preliminary hearing (if there is one)
Depending on the manner in which the prosecution of a case proceeds, the victim may also have the right to attend other types of proceedings unique to a particular criminal prosecution. For example, if a defendant claims that he or she is not guilty by reason of mental illness or defect (oftentimes still referred to as guilty by reason of insanity), the victim would have the right to attend a hearing on that matter.
Exclusion of Witnesses
The right of a victim to attend certain court proceedings, while highly important is not necessarily absolute. For example, the right of a victim to attend a trial may be limited if a decision is made by the court to sequester or exclude individuals who will be called as witnesses from the courtroom.
Sequestering witnesses from the courtroom during the course of a criminal trial occurs with some frequency in California criminal prosecutions. Either the prosecution or the defense may request the court keep witnesses designated to testify out of the courtroom before they make their appearance on the stand. Both parties may make the request to sequester witnesses. In many cases, a judge will permit a victim who testifies as a witness the opportunity to remain in the courtroom once that individual has testified in the case.
If the prosecution or defense makes a motion to the court to sequester witnesses, a judge typically will hear from the victim that the individual has strong feelings about being excluded from the courtroom. With that said, the focus of the court in this specific situation will be on the constitutional and legal rights of the defendant to a fair trial. The bottom line is that a judge may conclude that the interests of justice and a fair trial do necessitate sequestering witnesses during the course of the trial itself.
Presence of Victim Support Individuals
The criminal justice system can be quite daunting for a victim to experience first-hand. In many cases, a victim of crime has little to no prior exposure to the justice system, particularly the criminal justice system.
In recent years, states across the nation, including California, have been intent of establishing programs where a victim of crime has access to support in the form of a victim advocate. When it comes to the rights of crime victims at criminal proceedings, typically these individuals now have the right to have a victim advocate with them in court.
Employment Protections While Attending Proceedings
Historically, situations arose when victims of crimes faced issues with their employers if they desired to attend court proceedings associated with a defendant alleged to be a perpetrator of a crime against them. States across the country have taken steps to protect victims from employment issues or problems when they elect to attend court proceedings associated with the alleged perpetrator of a crime against them.
The bottom line of these protections is that an employer cannot terminate an employee who, as the victim of a crime, wants to attend court proceedings associated with the case. The reality is that many employers naturally are rather understanding and accommodating in this regard. This is not universally the case, however. Because of this lack of universality, laws have begun to be added to the books across the country to add this layer of protection to victims of crime.
Right to Make a Statement at the Sentencing Hearing
A crucial right afforded to victims of crime when it comes to attending court proceedings involves the right of a victim to make a statement at the sentencing hearing. This statement typically is called a victim impact statement. It marks the primary point in the proceedings at which a victim is able to make a statement about how the crime impacted that individual’s life directly to the court.
Making a statement is not mandatory. In addition, a victim typically is provided the opportunity to make such a statement in person during the sentencing hearing itself or submit such a statement to the court in writing.