Remembering the victims of crime
“Justice, though due to the accused, is due the accuser also. The concept of fairness must not be strained till it is narrowed to a filament. We are to keep the balance true.”
— Justice Benjamin Cardozo
“My experience is that people who have been through painful, difficult times are filled with compassion.”
— Amy Grant
Appellate cases in the criminal arena frequently focus on the rights of those accused of crimes. It is only logical that this would be the case. The accused has an attorney and is a party to the proceedings. The system strives to ensure that those who are charged with crimes are treated fairly and that their Constitutional rights are protected.
To ensure that the victims of crime have a voice in court and that their rights are protected as well, most states and the federal government have now adopted laws or constitutional provisions to protect the rights of crime victims. Many court systems, either through the prosecutor or directly through the court, have a victim advocate to assist in gathering restitution information, provide notice of hearing dates and otherwise shepherd victims through the court process. April 22–28 is National Crime Victim Rights Week and is an excellent time to look at how the work of those advocates is governed by several provisions of Ohio law that relate specifically to victims.
First, and most importantly, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and courts are now required to provide notice to victims when a defendant is arrested, charged or scheduled to appear in court. In this way, victims can monitor the progress in their cases and can be present for court proceedings. During the court process, victims not only have the right to be present, but also to have a victim advocate appear with them or appear in their place to observe and monitor the proceedings.
The law also grants victims several opportunities for input as the process moves forward. Ohio law provides that if a prosecutor intends to amend or dismiss a charge or to agree to a negotiated plea, the prosecutor should confer with the victim beforehand, “to the extent practicable.” In juvenile cases where the child’s charge will be handled through pretrial diversion, the court is required to notify the victim of that fact.
If the defendant is convicted or if the juvenile is adjudicated delinquent, then the victim must be afforded an opportunity to complete a written victim impact statement or submit to the court a written statement prior to sentencing or disposition. The victim is also permitted to make a statement to a person preparing what is called a presentence investigation — a report prepared in order to give the court more information about the defendant and the defendant’s history.
Once a defendant has been sentenced, the victim is entitled to notice of post-conviction proceedings in the case. This includes notice of any appeals filed and hearing on those appeals, notice of requests for early release and notice of the actual date of release. If the defendant asks for a release and a hearing will be held on that request, the victim is again permitted to be present for the hearing on the release request and is permitted to make a statement.
Delaware County is fortunate to have several extremely dedicated victim advocates. Trish Wright is the director of the Office of Victim’s Services through the office of County Prosecutor Carol O’Brien. In addition to the services noted above, her office also provides 24/7 response when crimes occur and assists with applications for protection orders. Valerie Parrish is the victim advocate through the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office, assists with victims in Municipal Court and handles the registration of sex offenders in Delaware County. Dana Wisecarver assists victims in juvenile cases and works continuously to provide accurate information on restitution and victim statements.
These advocates, in conjunction with local agencies like HelpLine and Turning Point, give a voice to those who have persevered through crime.
David Hejmanowski is a magistrate and court administrator of the Delaware County Juvenile Court and a former assistant prosecuting attorney.