For too long, the victims of crime have been the forgotten persons of our criminal justice system. – Ronald Reagan (1911–2004)
Every day we learn about crimes that are happening in our communities. For most people it is easy to dismiss these events as things that only happen in big cities or to other people. While we are fortunate to enjoy a very low crime rate here in Wyoming, that doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting our communities and, most importantly, the lives of victims and their loved ones.
Think about any one of the tragedies you may hear about in the news – a mother driving to the grocery store who is killed by a drunk driver, a father returning from work to find his house has been burglarized, a young woman sexually assaulted. Those are real people who are suffering, and who must now rely on a criminal justice system they know little about to not only watch out for their interests but provide a sense of hope.
There was a time, more than 30 years ago, when crime victims were often overlooked. They had virtually no rights and no assistance in navigating the justice system, and the process often seemed indifferent to their needs. Victims were commonly excluded from courtrooms and denied the chance to speak at sentencing. They had no access to compensation or services to help rebuild their lives. There were few avenues to deal with their emotional and physical wounds, and victims were on their own to recover their health, security, and dignity.
Over the years, the nation has made dramatic progress in securing rights, protections, and services for victims. The Victim and Witness Protection Act (VWPA) of 1982 established “fair treatment standards” for victims and witnesses in the federal criminal justice system, and assigned responsibility for victim and witness assistance to U.S. Attorneys’ Offices nationwide. Each office employs a Victim-Witness Coordinator to ensure compliance.
The VWPA, along with the later enacted Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), also ensures specific protections for victims and witnesses of federal crime who have suffered physical, financial, or emotional trauma. These rights include:
• Protection from the accused;
• Notice of any public court or parole proceeding;
• Attendance at any public court proceeding;
• Opportunity to be heard at any public court or parole proceeding involving release, plea, or sentencing;
• Access to the attorney for the Government in the criminal case;
• Full and timely restitution to recover financial losses;
• Treatment with fairness and respect for individual dignity and privacy; and
• Notice of any plea bargain or deferred prosecution agreement.
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW), which is observed this year from April 19–25, 2020, is a time to celebrate this progress as we continue to stand with our families, neighbors, friends, and colleagues whose lives have been forever altered by crime. This year’s theme: “Seek Justice. Ensure Victims’ Rights. Inspire Hope” – recognizes the individuals and groups whose advocacy has propelled the victims’ rights movement forward for the past half century, inspiring in victims and their loved ones a feeling of hope for progress, justice, and healing.
My office remains dedicated to promoting these victim rights and protections. Acknowledging their interests is an essential and routine part of our prosecutions. We work to ensure criminals are not only brought to justice but that the rights and needs of victims are carefully considered and protected along the way. This week’s observance is an opportunity to remember those who suffer most directly from crime and ensure the system works for them too.
Here in Wyoming, we have numerous organizations and non-profits dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse, child exploitation, and other crimes. These groups raise awareness of victims’ rights issues and the community services available. We stand with them in their efforts as we all work to ensure that victims are never forgotten along the way.
Mark A. Klaassen