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Victims' Rights in Criminal Cases

There are most definitely rights and protections recognized for crime victims in the United States and most of its individual states. One need look no farther than state statutes and constitutions to confirm this reality. In the past few decades, more than 30,000 laws protecting crime victims have been enacted at both the state and national levels. In fact, 32 states have passed amendments that include victims' rights in their own state constitutions.

Impact of Victims' Rights

Professionals in the corrections field posit that prioritizing and dealing with victims' issues and interests within the context of the corrections system assists the victim on an individual basis, and also assists the overall criminal justice and corrections processes. In the specific instance of a parole hearing, for example, if the victim receives notification of the hearing, he or she can appear at the hearing to give an impact statement. The parole board then has a more complete understanding of the underlying information behind the crime. Additionally, the victim can provide to the parole board a sense of the full magnitude and impact of the crime on the victim and the victim's family, friends, neighbors, community, and colleagues.

What Is the Most Important Victims' Right?

The most significant victims' right is the right to notice, according to most corrections professionals. It is the most significant of victims' rights because it is the foundation of all other victims' rights. In essence, because of the notice threshold, the victim can gain access to his or her other rights and protections. For example, a victim cannot attend a parole hearing of which he or she has no notice, nor can he or she provide a meaningful and helpful impact statement at that parole hearing if he or she is ignorant of the parole hearing even being held.

Some crime victims also argue that it is just as important—if not more so—for them to be informed on a regular and routine basis of the progress of a criminal proceeding and case, as the significance and importance of the ultimate disposition or outcome of the case are to them. As a result, many states have passed laws that provide crime victims with the rights and protections of being notified of key correctional proceedings automatically and as a matter of right, rather than as a result of professional courtesy. Correction professionals are typically charged with the duty of providing victims with notice of hearings relating to the offender of their particular crime, such as parole hearings.

Some states also require that victims be informed of the offenders' status in instances when the offender escapes, is recaptured, transferred between facilities, paroled, and/or released from incarceration permanently. Some states also mandate that correctional facilities notify crime victims with estimates of projected dates when jailed offenders might be first eligible for release from incarceration, too.