| WHOS WHO IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE
Victims may sometimes feel powerless and intimidated by the criminal justice system. After having been victimized, you may not have much energy left to deal with the systems that might appear to be overwhelming. The role of the victim advocate is to inform victims of the various avenues open to them and educate them on how to appropriately relate to criminal justice professionals. Care must be taken to not be offensive and thereby break down relationships altogether.
Victim/Witness Advocates are professionals trained to provide victims and witnesses with support and guidance as their cases move through the criminal justice system. Advocates may also provide emotional support, help you apply for victim compensation if you are eligible and may be able to help you find other forms of assistance that you may require as a result of being involved in a crime.
Victim/Witness Advocates are part of the county attorney’s office in most counties in Arizona, and you should call this office and speak to the advocate to determine what assistance is available in your case. There are also Victim/Witness Advocates who are part of local police departments. If your case was investigated by the local police, you can ask the police department whether there is an advocate, or you can call the County Attorney’s Office and speak to the advocate there to ask who will be your advocate.
In general, the Victim Advocate will be your best resource for information and guidance about criminal proceedings as the case unfolds. You should meet with your advocate soon after you become the victim of a crime and inform the advocate that you want to be certain that all your victim’s rights are observed. Be sure to cover the following with the advocate.
The advocate knows how to reach you quickly and assure the advocate that you will cooperate in any way possible to assist the prosecutor in the case.
Ask how to obtain copies of all important records, i.e. police and investigative reports in the case to review them carefully for completeness and accuracy. Immediately inform both the advocate and the prosecutor if you find any problems.
Discuss your opportunity to be heard by the court at the initial appearance of the accused and at any time the court considers post-arrest release.
Discuss when and how you will confer with the prosecutor during the case and be sure to ask about making a victim impact statement that will be considered by the court at sentencing.
In making initial contact with the prosecuting attorney, the victim should communicate desire to be helpful as an enabler to the attorney. The initial contact may be made by letter, but should always be closely followed up by a personal call requesting an in-person interview. Victims do have the right to personally discuss their own case with the prosecuting attorney who will be representing the state.
The probation office, in the case of an adult defendant, or the juvenile department, in the case of a juvenile defendant, will be making a recommendation to the court regarding the disposition of the defendant once he has been found guilty. Therefore, it is absolutely vital that this person know the victim’s feelings about the case and his wishes regarding the disposition. Also included are more objective itemizations such as unreimbursed medical and funeral bills, loss of wages and support, etc. A letter should first be sent to the probation department followed by a telephone request for a personal interview.
Judges are to remain bias-free until a case is adjudicated. Therefore, under no circumstances should a judge be written to, telephoned, or visited prior to or during the trial. Failure to obey this rule may be grounds for a mistrial or dismissal of the case. However, after the case has been adjudicated, and prior to sentencing, victim impact statements and other letters from friends, community members, relatives, etc. may be made available to the judge to assist him in making a decision about the case as well as a decision which represents the community at large. All of these materials, however, are to be sent to the probation officer, who will determine the most appropriate way to forward the comments to the judge. Personal contact with the judge should never be made until the case is disposed of.
The defense attorney may phone, write, or even appear at the door of the victim. Victims have the right to refuse to discuss the case with the defense attorney. However, if they choose to talk to the defense attorney, it is wise to postpone the discussion until the prosecuting attorney can be present. Victims must be aware that the defense attorney will try to use anything said to enhance the case of his defendant in the legal proceedings.