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Posted on: April 22, 2021

The Importance of Victims’ Rights

Victim Advocates

The Victim Bill of Rights was a landmark amendment that opened the door for many to share their story in the courtroom after experiencing a crime. While many think that a victim is just the person the crime occurred to, it is much more encompassing.

As part of this amendment, a victim is anyone against whom a criminal offense has been committed. If the person is killed or incapacitated, then it's the victim's spouse, parent, child, sibling, grandparent and any other person related to the victim by birth or marriage, or any other lawful representative unless any of them are in custody for an offense or are the accused.

If a victim is physically or emotionally unable to exercise their rights, they can designate a lawful representative who can exercise the same rights as the victim as long as they are not a witness. The victim can revoke this designation at any time.

Victims and their families need to be present during criminal proceedings to exercise their participatory rights and to see justice at work. When a crime is committed against a person, it is often traumatic, and being able to participate in the process can provide a measure of healing.

The following are two cases that showcase the importance and impact victims' rights have in the criminal justice process:

Case #1

The victim and her son were driving when another vehicle crashed into them. She sustained serious physical injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, and her son died at the crash scene. Little did they know that the other vehicle occupants recently robbed a Walmart and stole the car they were driving from another victim by gunpoint.

She endured the pain of her physical injuries and experienced the profound and complicated grief of losing her son. Her husband shared their combined experience as a family, and due to her brain injury, he struggled with thinking his wife was going to pass away. Whatever the defendants stole from Walmart that night seemed inconsequential compared to the fact that both the victim and his son were 'taken away' that night. Sometimes she doesn't recognize the home they've lived in for over 40 years or her husband and asks him to take her home, saying she misses her "husband" and asks for her son and other family members that are long gone. Their daughter has had to move home to help care for her mother full-time.

It was important for the victim to have the opportunity to address the court at sentencing, which she did. With the help of her loving daughter, she introduced herself and made a statement to the judge. The second victim was also very traumatized by the crime and suffered from PTSD. Before Sentencing, the family wanted the maximum sentence for those involved but accepted the judge's decision – the decision to sentence the individuals to 16 years and 23 years, respectively.

The grace, kindness, and resilience of the victims were remarkable. They embodied these characteristics throughout the multiple hearing continuances, the emotional plea negotiation process, and the restrictions placed upon their ability to attend court in person due to COVID.

Case #2

The victim was driving her vehicle when another driver suddenly hit her.

Her vehicle was pushed into a concrete barrier causing it to roll over. She was hit by a drunk driver who had fled the scene of a hit and run crash. She sustained severe injuries, including several bone fractures and a possible brain bleed.

At 69 years old, the victim described herself as an energetic, healthy, and active woman who used to pick up her grandkids from school. After the accident, her 'life' was taken away from her as she knew it. Because of the crash, she rarely leaves her home and cannot drive due to the loss of vision. She suffered severe injuries to her head and eye and became dependent on others. She wanted to address the court at sentencing and put together a very thoughtful and impactful Victim Impact Statement. She worked with her Advocate and asked her to read it aloud on her behalf at sentencing. The prosecutor successfully obtained a 7-year prison term for this case which stunned the accused, who did not think he would get more than five years. The victim displayed remarkable courage and resilience.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office is committed to seeking justice, ensuring that victims' rights are honored, and educating the public on those rights. Every victim has a voice, and it is our mission to make sure it's heard.

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