As most of us recall from U.S. History or civics class, persons accused of crimes have been guaranteed certain basic rights since ratification in 1791 of the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, also known as the Bill of Rights.
The movement seeking similar protection of basic rights for victims of crimes, however, did not begin in earnest until the late 20th century.
Victims’ Rights Amendments and Legislation
More than thirty states have concluded that crime victims’ rights are important enough to be guaranteed by their constitutions. Most of the remaining states have enacted comparable legislation.
While the specifics vary, the rights to which victims are entitled generally include at least the following:
- The right to be kept informed of the status of the case against the accused.
- The right to reasonable prior notice of and an opportunity to be heard at most hearings and other proceedings.
- The right to be compensated for losses resulting from the crime.
- The right to protection against intimidation or further victimization by the accused or others.
- The right to privacy.
Through the state’s initiative process, in 2008 California voters approved Proposition 9, also known as Marcy’s Law. The law, which amended both the state constitution and several sections of the Penal Code, was named for Marsalee “Marsy” Nicholas.
A week after Marsy was stalked and murdered in 1983, her parents were confronted in public by Marsy’s accused (and subsequently convicted) ex-boyfriend. They were unaware that the killer had been released on bail.
The enactment of Marsy’s Law pushed California to the forefront of state efforts to ensure victims’ rights. Along with the basic rights listed above, some of a victim’s rights under California law are:
- To refuse to be interviewed, under oath or otherwise, by the defendant’s representatives.
- To provide information to probation officials in connection with their pre-sentencing investigation.
- To the prompt return of any property needed as evidence.
As with any constitutional or statutory guarantee, the Marsy’s Law protections of crime victims’ rights are only as effective as the will and resources to enforce them. Of course, there are rarely enough resources to ensure that every victim is fully protected. Also, the goals and attitudes of the prosecution and law enforcement may not always fully coincide with those of victims.
To help implement the provisions of Marsy’s Law, the California Attorney General’s Office has established a Victims’ Service Unit. Additionally, victims who have incurred expenses such as medical treatment costs or lost wages may be eligible to receive compensation through the state’s Victim’s Compensation Program
Someone On Your Side
Few victims of serious crimes in California are familiar with the workings of the criminal justice system or their rights under state and, in some cases federal, law. Many have suffered physical, financial or emotional harm and are understandably fearful of facing the perpetrator in court or of being harmed in retribution for testifying.
As a victim of a serious crime, you may have a limited number of opportunities to have your perspective heard. If you feel that your concerns are being ignored or lost in the shuffle, an experienced victim representation law firm can help ensure that you receive the full benefit of each of the rights to which you are entitled by law.