Most crimes are committed in the heat of the moment. In most cases, the perpetrators and the crime victims know each other. As with domestic violence cases, the parties may even be related to each other. After things cool down, victims may not wish to see their loved ones face a criminal conviction for the incident. However, it is not as simple as just telling law enforcement they wish to drop the charges.
Crime Victims Bill of Rights
In New York, crime victims have rights to information, notification, and in some cases compensation. By having these rights, the goal is to have victims be treated fairly and with respect during the criminal legal process.
A crime victim is entitled to the following:
- A free copy of the police report
- Notification by the prosecutor of criminal proceedings
- Ability to make a victim impact statement at the time of sentencing on a felony
- Obtain a waiver of fees for certain items
- An explanation of the circumstances to employers and/or creditors by law enforcement
- Protection from penalties by an employer for missing work
- Victim compensation and assistance
- Restitution (or at least make such a request)
- Freedom from intimidation, threats, or harassment
- Receive notice of the defendant’s discharge, escape, or release from a correctional facility
Input of Crime Victims in Criminal Prosecutions
Note that in the above, crime victims do not have a right to drop the charges. In reality, this is up to the District Attorney’s Office. It is up to the prosecutor whether someone is charged with crimes and prosecuted.
While crime victims may be the key witnesses, there are times when cases are prosecuted without their testimony. For example, if an independent witness observes the crime, the victim’s account may not be crucial to the case.
Often times, prosecutors do speak with victims and ask them what they want. In cases where families are involved, counseling may be what a victim would like. For many cases, a victim may just want an order of protection to help them feel safe.
A more modern approach is restorative justice. Rather than the traditional approach of punishment, restorative justice seeks to offer community support instead of alienating or isolating those who have committed harm. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, when given the choice, 90 percent of crime victims chose restorative justice instead of a traditional approach.
Under this framework, the goal is to repair harm and address the needs of survivors. It also holds hose who have caused harm accountable. All of those impacted by harm – including the crime victims and the perpetrators – are considered. Specifically, anyone affected by a crime could participate in restorative justice proceedings.
- NYCourts.gov, Crime Victim Rights During the Criminal Case. Available at: https://nycourts.gov/courthelp/criminal/crimeVictims.shtml (last accessed Mar. 22, 2022).
- New York State Office of the Attorney General, Crime Victims Bill of Rights. Available at: https://ag.ny.gov/sites/default/files/crime_victims_bill_of_rights.pdf (last accessed Mar. 22, 2022).
- Vera Institute of Justice, How Can District Attorneys’ Offices Use Restorative Justice? (Oct. 2020). Available at: https://www.vera.org/publications/how-can-district-attorneys-offices-use-restorative-justice (last accessed Mar. 22, 2022).
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