Across the United States, victim advocates are becoming more frequently apart of criminal justice systems. Victim advocates can play a variety of roles, including during the criminal prosecution of alleged offenders. For example, victim advocates can play notable significant roles in the prosecution of alleged sex offenders. Understanding the role a victim advocate plays in a criminal prosecution aids a person in understanding the overall operation of the criminal justice system and the place of the crime victim in that structure.
What is a Victim Advocate?
Before diving into the specific role a victim advocate undertakes during a criminal prosecution, a basic understand of the position of a this type of professional is necessary. In very basic terms, a victim advocate is a trained professional that supports victims of crime. A victim advocate can be involved at different junctures following the commission of a criminal offense.
For example, in the case of a sex crime, a victim advocate can become involved directly after the incident and assist and support a victim during the medical forensic evaluation (or rape kit examination) process. An advocate of this type can assist a victim in accessing resources, like those offered through state agencies like the California Victim Compensation Board. An advocate can work with and support a crime victim during the prosecution of the alleged offender.
Prepare a Crime Victim for Court Appearances
At the heart of a criminal prosecution are court sessions of different types. A major responsibility of an advocate during a criminal prosecution is to make sure that a victim understands the various stages of the court proceeding. Moreover, an advocate is charged with assisting a victim in preparing to prepare at any of the various court proceedings in a case.
Depending on the jurisdiction there are three types of court settings that a victim of a crime, including a victim of a sexual assault, may need to attend and testify. These are:
- Grand jury proceedings
- Preliminary hearing
The grand jury proceedings are undertaken to ascertain whether criminal charges should be brought in the first instance. The alleged perpetrator will not be in attendance at a grand jury proceeding. Not all jurisdictions use grand juries to commence a criminal proceeding.
A preliminary hearing is conducted in some cases and is held before a judge without a jury. This type of hearing is designed to permit the judge to hear the essential evidence collected in the case to determine whether there is enough to warrant proceeding to trial. A victim in a sexual assault case might be present at preliminary hearing to testify. However, a victim is not always asked to testify at such a proceeding. The defendant will be present. Even if the victim is not going to be called to testify, she still has the right to be present at this hearing if she so desires.
If a sexual assault case ends up in a trial (as opposed to a plea), the victim will be called upon to testify. In addition, as with other major court sessions in the case, the victim has the right to be present in the courtroom throughout a trial.
A victim of a sexual assault has the right to not only be present in the courtroom for sentencing but also to make a victim impact statement. This can be done either in written form or by speaking to the judge directly during the sentencing hearing.
Access Resources to Ensure the Safety of Crime Victim During Criminal Prosecution
Another important role of an advocate is to assist a victim in accessing necessary resources to keep her safe and secure during a criminal prosecution. The shocking reality is that from time to time in the United States, a victim of a crime (including sexual assault) ends up threatened or even physically harmed as a means of dissuading that individual from testifying or otherwise participating in a criminal prosecution. There are different types of resources available to a sexual assault victim involved in a criminal prosecution. An advocate serves as a link between those resources at the victim.
Liaison Between Crime Victim and Prosecuting and Defense Counsel
A crucial role an advocate plays during a criminal prosecution is to serve as a liaison between the prosecuting attorney and defense counsel. In addition, an advocate might be called upon to serve as a liaison between a court officer designated to develop a sentencing recommendation following a plea agreement or a trial.
Aid Crime Victim in Accessing Resources During Criminal Prosecution
Finally, during the course of a criminal prosecution, an advocate may be called upon to assist a victim in accessing various resources. These resources can include everything from counseling or therapeutic assistance to an agency like the California Victim Compensation Board that provides different types of aid, including financial compensation to address things like crime scene cleanup, to a victim of crime.