'Justice For All' Means Respecting The Rights Of & Having Compassion For All Victims
MONDAY, APRIL 20, 2020
The presumption of innocence—the fact defendants needn’t prove they did not commit a crime—is paramount in our legal system. But we can’t truly have “justice for all” unless we assure victims’ rights are also respected and protected and legally guaranteed.
Thanks to so-called “procedural shows” on TV, just about everyone can recite the Miranda Rights, a person's rights when being arrested to remain silent, to have an attorney, etc.
Less well known are the legal rights afforded crime victims. In the last half-century, state legislatures across the nation have passed tens of thousands of victims’ rights bills. The Missouri State Attorney General’s Office has produced a 32-page guide (PDF) about the rights assured to crime victims under an amendment to the state Constitution and laws in effect since 1993.
Treating Each & Every Victim With Compassion
I’ve listed the crime victims’ “general rights in Missouri” at the bottom of this page. It’s vital that we have these laws on the books to guarantee crime victims are always among the “all” for whom we seek justice. Just as essential as following the letter of the law, I believe, is sincerely treating each and every victim with compassion.
I know that is why the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office has a Victim Advocate Unit dedicated to not only guiding a victim through the legal proceedings but also providing emotional support. That’s why the Prosecutor’s Office and one of our COMBAT-funded agencies, the AdHoc Group Against Crime, have teamed up on the Caring For Crime Survivors program. True to its name, this program is all about caring, offering help with basic needs such as shelter, food, clothing, even cleaning up the crime scene—if the scene happens to be where the survivor lives, which is often the case—and repairing damage, such as a broken door or windows.
While this week has been designated National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, our commitment to victims must be year-round… 24/7… every year… and—I will repeat myself—for each and every victim.
As I write this, I’m remembering what Dr. Robert Winfield wrote for the COMBAT website earlier this year about treating gunshot wound victims. He told us about the agony that overwhelmed one woman when he told her about her son’s violent death:
At a glance, I knew nothing about the circumstances under which this teen sustained his injury. Drugs? Gangs? Bystander? I had never seen them together, but his last words were asking for his ‘mama’ and the anguish she expressed when I told her of his death was like a bullet fired into my soul. It occurred to me that regardless of the circumstances, this mother loved her child every bit as much as my mother loves me or as much as I love my own children.
No One Is Immune
These are uncertain times we are living through. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated clearly no one is immune. There for the grace of God goes I.
Sadly, crime has not “shut down” during this public health crisis. Just ask KC Mothers In Charge Founder Rosilyn Temple.
It took a pandemic to prevent her—for the first time since 2013—from being among the first on the scene at a Kansas City homicide to offer on-the-spot crisis counseling and other support for the victim’s surviving family. Unfortunately, there have continued to still be too many homicide scenes and other crime scenes.
As Rosilyn recently said so well, “What we need is some stillness and to stop hurting each other. Even with all this social distancing, we ought to be coming together during this crisis.”
Beyond National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, let’s recognize that we all have a role to play in keeping one another safe and in helping victims become survivors. I’ll leave you with this hashtag we’ve been using on our Twitter posts these last few weeks during the COVID crisis, and I think it applies here, for crime victims, as well: #CompassionIsContagiousToo.
Crime Victims' General Rights In Missouri
From the State Attorney General's Crime Victims' Rights Guide:
• To be present at all criminal proceedings where the defendant has that right, even if the victim is called to testify or may be called to testify as a witness in the case.
• To be present at any hearing in which the defendant is present before a probation and parole hearing officer and to full participation in all phases of parole hearings or probation revocation hearings.
• To be heard at juvenile probation revocation hearings, probation revocation and parole hearings initiated by the board of probation and parole, and release proceedings for persons found not guilty by reason of insanity. Victims may offer a written statement, video or audio tape in lieu of a personal appearance.
• To protection from harmful threats from a defendant, or persons acting on behalf of defendant, for activities arising out of cooperation with law enforcement officials, and the right to a secure waiting area during a court proceeding.
• To fair employment rights (including the right of a victim, witness or member of a victim’s family not to be discharged or disciplined by an employer for honoring a subpoena or for participating in the preparation of a criminal proceeding).
• To regain property from a prosecutor or law enforcement officer once it is no longer needed for evidence or retention during an appeal (within five working days upon request) unless it is contraband or subject to forfeiture proceedings.
• To creditor intercession services by the prosecuting attorney if the victim is unable, as a result of the crime, to temporarily meet financial obligations.
• To limited compensation for out-of-pocket loss and for qualified medical care necessary as a result of the crime.