Blog Post

Impact of Victims Rights on a Defendant

In 1990 the Arizona Constitution was amended to include the “Victims’ Bill of Rights” (hereinafter “VBR”). Contained in Article 2, Section 2.1 of the Arizona Constitution, the VBR affords the victims of crime a vast array of rights, which impact virtually every stage of a criminal case from its inception through release proceedings held by the Department of Corrections. Following the passage of the VBR, the Arizona legislature enacted a variety of legislation in order to implement the rights that it conferred upon crime victims. This article will first look at who has been afforded the rights associated with crime victims, discuss some of the rights that the VBR provides, and provide you with some examples of how the VBR may impact your case.

The “Victims’ Bill of Rights” applies to a variety of individuals and entities. Obviously, individual people who have been named the victim of a crime are vested with all of the rights provided by the VBR. However, the VBR is not limited simply to people. Indeed, a variety of entities may be provided with victim status, which in certain situations will give them the ability to have a tremendous impact on your case. For instance, neighborhood associations and corporate entities may be named as victims in certain instances. However, their rights under Arizona law are somewhat limited when compared to those of individual victims.

As noted previously, the VBR confers upon those labeled as victims a variety of rights, which gives them sway over virtually every aspect of your case. For instance, a victim has the right to be heard before the Court may rule on a motion to modify release conditions. In addition, a victim has the right to provide input in plea negotiations, as well as the right to be heard at any sentencing proceeding. Victims even have the right to be heard following the adjudication of a case. For instance, if a defendant is granted probation the victim has the right to be heard at any probation revocation proceeding, or prior to any modification of the terms of a defendant’s probation. If the defendant was sentenced to prison, the victim has the right be heard prior to any decision affecting the defendant’s release. Although the foregoing rights are important to note, it is likely no right provided by the VBR will have as significant of an impact on your case as the victim’s right to refuse a pretrial interview. Indeed, more than any other, it is the right to refuse to talk to the defense that hinders an accused’s ability to adequately prepare for trial.

The naming of certain individuals or entities as the victims of crime prior to adjudication of a defendant’s case is logically inconsistent with the ideals upon which our criminal justice system is founded. Indeed, the touchstone of our justice system is the idea that a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Given the foregoing, it is illogical to name someone the victim of a crime until a case has been adjudicated, and it has been determined that a crime actually occurred. The foregoing notwithstanding, the VBR has withstood a number of constitutional challenges, and remains the law of the land in Arizona. As such, it is important that an attorney in a criminal case be knowledgeable about the rights conferred by the VBR.

How the bill affects defendants and victims

The VBR has had an enormous practical impact on the way criminal cases are handled by the courts. For instance, if you are a defendant in certain types of cases and you need to leave the state unexpectedly for either work or family business, you may need to obtain the court’s permission prior to leaving Arizona. In the event your charges involve a “victim,” your ability to quickly obtain permission from the court will be affected by the need to check with the victim prior to any temporary modification of your release conditions. This is not to say that you cannot obtain the court’s permission unless the victim agrees. However, it does mean that your ability to obtain permission quickly may be hampered by the need for victim notification and input. Given the unpredictable nature of life in general, this may have a significant impact on your ability to manage your affairs in a timely fashion during the pendency of your case.

Savvy prosecutors and police officers have also learned to use the VBR to their advantage. For instance, let’s hypothetically assume that a person is involved in bar fight after being attacked by some other individual. Following an investigation of the incident, the police side with the attacker and charge the person with assault, while listing all of the witnesses to the incident in their reports. Often times a savvy police officer or prosecutor will add charges of disorderly conduct, and name all of the witnesses listed in the police report as victims of that offense. Now everyone in the hypothetical case above, except the defendant, may be considered a victim and can refuse to be interviewed by the defendant’s attorney. Obviously, this situation can have a profound effect on your ability to adequately prepare a defense for trial.

Final Thoughts

The passage of the VBR has created significant tension between the rights of an accused and the rights of victims. In order to properly navigate the criminal justice system it is vital that your attorney have the experience and knowledge necessary to lessen the impact of the VBR on your rights. The attorneys at Chuck Franklin Law have that experience, and will put it to work for you. If you have been charged with a crime, call Chuck Franklin now. If you are a victim of domestic violence please contact the HopeLine for support and programs that can assist you.

Image of an antique scale of justice in balance, symbolizing legal equity, with a blurred gavel in the foreground, placed on a wooden table, indicating the importance of victim rights in the judicial system.

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