What Role does the Victim Play in a Criminal or Domestic Violence Case?
A crime victim is often indispensable to proving a crime. But they also have legal rights. Whether the crime is domestic violence, assault, theft, a sex offense, or other crimes, the federal and state judicial systems have rules, policies, and procedures in place to assist victims through the complex court system and to assist them as potential witnesses in a criminal proceeding. The Victim-Witness Program of the United States Attorney’s Office, New Jersey’s Victim Witness Services, and the New Jersey State Parole Board Office of Victim Services all provide resources and services for crime victims, helping them personally and preparing them as prosecution witnesses if appropriate.
What are Some of the Rights and Protections for Victims of Crimes in NJ?
As part of the victim advocacy and witness programs, employees inform victims of their legal rights under the victims’ rights portion of the Crime Control Act of 1990, such as the right to privacy, fairness, and respect; and the right to be informed of court proceedings, to confer with the government’s attorney, and to be present at public hearings, if appropriate. Further, they have the right to protection from the accused, financial restitution, and information regarding the accused’s conviction, sentencing, and release.
Victims have the right to know about the legal proceedings in the criminal justice system and updates on the investigation, court hearings, offender’s plea, release from jail, and the sentence terms, including the offender’s release date or parole disposition. They also have the right to information regarding services for medical and social services, counseling, treatment, and support in obtaining services. To ease their fears, victims have the right not to be confronted or seen by the accused during court proceedings. Finally, victims are entitled to their belongings after evidentiary use and their costs for physical examination, testing, and sexually transmitted disease counseling after sexual assault. Forensic evidence can be particularly important in prosecuting sex crime cases.
The Victim-Witness coordinator is primarily responsible for coordinating and updating victims about court proceedings and helping a victim get shelter, counseling, and financial assistance. They send notifications about court dates, changes in dates or locations of their case, and available parking and interpreter services. The coordinator and other employees of the victim advocacy program can answer questions regarding the entire process. Many victims are unfamiliar with criminal court procedures and their role in prosecuting a case.
When do Victims Appear in Court for Criminal Charges in NJ?
Questions regarding when or if the victim appears as a witness at trial are common, as victims may play an essential evidentiary role in the prosecution and sentencing of those convicted. Victims and defendants may not know whether the victim can appear at the grand jury indictment, arraignment, detention hearing, or other pretrial hearing. Communication with the coordinator or prosecuting attorney becomes crucial to the fair treatment of victims and respecting their rights. Typically, a victim does not appear at pretrial hearings. And whether a victim testifies at trial is up to the prosecuting attorney. Also, when they may write or tell their statement to the court regarding the harmful effects of a crime are common concerns for victims. They typically write a statement for the pre-sentencing report to the judge to consider when sentencing a convicted defendant.
Can a Victim Testify for the Prosecution in NJ?
A crime victim can be crucial to prosecuting the accused, as they are evidence of the alleged crime and suffered the effects. However, assisting the prosecution’s case against the accused can cause an injured victim more injury. It is a sensitive issue, especially in cases of domestic violence, theft, assault, and sex crimes, when speaking about the traumatic events often causes the victim to relive them. The United States Attorney Victim Witness Program provides Victim Advocates and Victim Witness coordinators who ensure victims of federal crimes know their rights, are updated on case status, and are protected from unnecessary privacy intrusion. Even with resources, rights, and services, some victims do not want to testify against the defendant in their case.
Can a Victim Testify at a Parole Hearing in NJ?
Another stage of the criminal process where a victim plays a critical role is parole hearings; the New Jersey State Parole Board contacts victims of first degree crimes for a statement. Parole Board Office of Victim Services notifies victims of their right to testify in writing or in person for consideration by the parole board. Regardless of the crime, however, victims may contact the board and register to give their statements. When the testimony is in-person, the board holds a hearing to get the victim’s statement.
A victim’s statement may include disclosing the victim’s continuing physical, emotional, psychological, and financial losses due to the crime. They may also speak to the effects on their family, job, or social life. Finally, a victim may provide insight to the State Parole Board on the incarcerated defendant’s character, traits, and likelihood of re-offending when released, especially in domestic violence cases when the victim knows the incarcerated individual intimately. Such information may influence the terms of an inmate’s release and the degree of supervision. The Parole Board does not inform the inmate of the victim’s testimony or that they gave a statement.
Can a Victim Refuse to Provide Testimony in NJ?
A victim may refuse to testify against their spouse under spousal privilege, which allows a spouse to refuse to testify for the prosecution in court proceedings without being charged with contempt for their refusal. Similarly, doctors and lawyers have confidentiality privileges, allowing them to refuse to testify against their clients who entrusted them with information on the understanding the information would remain private. In a domestic violence criminal case, a prosecutor may subpoena the victim to testify, but a hostile witness may not help the prosecutor’s case.
Are Criminal Charges Dismissed if the Victim Won’t Testify in NJ?
The prosecution may still pursue the case, but proving a crime to a jury without the victim may be too difficult to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed a crime. Given the nature of one-on-one crimes, like domestic violence, theft, assault, and sexual assault, the proof that a crime occurred is primarily with the victim. Circumstances surrounding a crime may suggest a crime occurred, but the prosecution’s burden of proof is steep. There must be no doubt the defendant committed the charged offense or crimes. As such, hiring a criminal defense attorney is imperative when you face a criminal charge dependent on a victim’s testimony.
If the Victim Refuses to Pursue a Restraining Order in NJ, Is it Dismissed?
Even though a restraining order is available to protect an abused spouse, the victim may not want to file one. If they get a temporary restraining order, they may not attend the hearing to finalize it. In that case, the temporary restraining order expires, and there is no further protection for the victim, meaning a final restraining order is not issued. Moreover, a criminal defendant accused of committing a domestic violence crime, such as assault, or one accused of sexual assault, may note in their defense that the victim did not seek protection, whether through a domestic violence or sex crime protection order. A victim can also appear at the hearing for a restraining order that they originally filed and seek to dismiss it on the record.
Why do You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer if your Case Involves Allegations by an Alleged Victim in NJ?
In a criminal or domestic violence case, an experienced attorney is the one who can point out to a jury that the victim did not testify or refused to pursue a restraining order against the accused, creating doubt in a jury’s mind that the defendant committed the crime in question. Even before a trial, a skilled criminal defense lawyer can isolate the weaknesses of a prosecutor’s case with a reluctant victim, pressuring the prosecution to dismiss the case or enter a plea agreement that is more favorable to the defendant. If the alleged victim does testify, a talented criminal lawyer can cross-examine them on the witness stand, finding holes in their story and issues that demonstrate their lack of credibility when it comes to accusing the person charged.
At the end of the day, it is a bad idea to go to court without a criminal defense lawyer who has handled many cases involving victim accusations in courts across New Jersey. Enlisting the assistance of a proven, battle-tested attorney is the first step to protecting your rights and freedom. At The Tormey Law Firm, we defend clients charged with assault and violent crimes, sexual offenses, domestic violence offenses, and a multitude of others based on the allegations of someone else against our clients. If you need assistance with tackling the prosecution’s case, defending your criminal charges, or fighting a restraining order, call our offices anytime to speak with a criminal defense lawyer free of charge. You can reach us anytime, day or night, at (201)-556-1570 or contact us online today.