by: Georgette Allen
Victims of crime are often shuffled through the judicial system with feelings of confusion, anger, and re-victimization. At times, they may feel like the defendant has all the rights and they themselves have no rights at all. Trauma associated with violent crimes can have long-term effects, costing victims both emotionally and monetarily. In 1984, the federal government passed the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) to provide financial compensation to crime victims. As the main funding source for state victim compensation programs, VOCA derives its money from fines and penalties imposed on offenders at a federal level; tax dollars do not support this program. In New Mexico, the Crime Victims Reparation Commission (CVRC) administers funds to assist victims of violent crimes.
For many years, victims have asked, “Why does the defendant have all the rights? What about my rights?” These questions were finally addressed in 1992 when victim’s rights became part of the New Mexico Constitution. These rights, however, did not go into effect until the legislature enacted the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) in 1994. The purpose of the act is to ensure that the full impact of the crime is brought to the attention of the court, victims of violent crimes are treated with dignity, respect and sensitivity at all stages of the criminal justice process, and victims’ rights are protected by law enforcement agencies, prosecutors and judges as vigorously as are the rights of criminal defendants. The following are victims’ rights as set forth in the Victims of Crime Act:
- Be treated with fairness and respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy throughout the criminal justice process
- Timely disposition of the case;
- Be reasonably protected from the accused throughout the criminal justice process;
- Notification of court proceedings
- Attend all public court proceedings the accused has the right to attend;
- Confer with the prosecution
- Make a statement to the court at sentencing and at any post-sentencing hearings for the accused
- Restitution from the person convicted of the criminal offense that caused the victim’s loss or injury
- Information about the conviction, sentencing, imprisonment, escape or release of the accused
- Have the prosecuting attorney notify the victim’s employer, if requested by the victim, of the necessity of the victim’s cooperation and testimony in a court proceeding that may necessitate the absence of the victim from work for good cause;
- Promptly receive any property belonging to the victim that is being held for evidentiary purposes by a law enforcement agency or the prosecuting attorney, unless there are compelling evidentiary reasons for retention of the victim’s property; and
- Be informed by the court at a sentencing proceeding that the offender is eligible to earn meritorious deductions from the offender’s sentence and the amount of meritorious deductions that may be earned by the offender.
The first “Crime Victims Week” was proclaimed in April of 1981 by President Ronald Reagan. Each April since, the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) has assisted communities across the country in observing National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, brining attention to the devastating traumas faced by crime victims and recognizing those who advocate for them. This year, the Farmington Police Department received a grant from the OVC to promote community awareness of crime victims’ rights and services available. The campaign will run during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, April 21-27, 2013 and will include digital billboard ads, posters distributed throughout the community, guest spots on local radio stations, and public services announcements (PSAs). In addition, local crime victims have been invited to share their stories, which will be posted here on the task force blog and the San Juan Safe Communities Initiative website.
For more information about crime victims’ rights, or to share your story, contact: