Victims and Witnesses

Posted By: Attorney,

When a criminal case is charged, our staff work directly with victims and witnesses to provide support, resources and information throughout the court process. We help victims understand their rights and how the court process works, attend meetings and court hearings, and connect them to resources.

Victim Rights

Right to be notified of:

  • Crime victim rights
  • Prosecution process and the right to participate in it
  • Contents of any plea agreement
  • Changes in court proceeding schedule when a victim has been subpoenaed or requested to testify
  • Final disposition of the case
  • Appeals filed by the defendant, the right to attend the oral argument or hearing, and the right to be notified of the final disposition
  • Proposed sentence modifications for the offender, including the date, time, and location of the review and the right to provide input
  • Release or escape of the offender from prison, custodial institution or transfer to a lower security facility;
  • Offender’s petition for expungement
  • Right to request restitution
  • Right to apply for reparations
  • Information on the nearest crime victim assistance program or resource
  • Petition to civilly commit an offender, outcome of that petition, and notice of offender’s possible discharge/release from civil commitment

Right to Protection from Harm

  • Right to a secure waiting area during court proceedings
  • Right to request that home and employment address, telephone number, and birth date be withheld in open court
  • Right to request that law enforcement agency withhold identity from the public
  • Protection against employer retaliation for victims and witnesses called to testify and for victims of violent crimes and their family members who take reasonable time off to attend court proceedings
  • Tampering with a witness is a crime and should be reported

Right to Participate in Prosecution

  • Right to request a speedy trial
  • Right to provide input in a pretrial diversion decision
  • Right to object orally or in writing to a plea agreement at the plea presentation hearing
  • Right to object orally or in writing to a proposed disposition or sentence
  • Right to inform court of impact of crime orally or in writing at the sentencing hearing
  • Right to inform court at the sentencing hearing of social and economic impact of crime on persons and businesses in the community
  • Right to be present at the sentencing and plea presentation hearings
  • Right to submit statement regarding decision to discharge/release offender from civil commitment

Right to Apply for Financial Assistance

  • Victims of violent crime may apply for reparations from the state if they have suffered economic loss as a result of the crime
  • Victims may request the court to order the defendant to pay restitution if the defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty
  • Victims may request that a probation violation hearing be scheduled 60 days prior to the expiration of probation if restitution has not been paid

Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, and Harassment Victims

  • Right to be informed of prosecutor’s decision to decline prosecution or dismiss case along with information about seeking a protective or harassment order at no fee
  • Protection against employer retaliation for victims to take reasonable time off to attend court proceedings
  • Domestic abuse victims have ability to terminate lease without penalty or payment
  • Sexual assault victims have ability to terminate lease without penalty or payment
  • Sexual assault victims can make confidential request for HIV testing of offender
  • Sexual assault victims do not have to pay the cost of a sexual assault examination
  • Sexual assault victims may not be required to undergo a polygraph examination in order for an investigation or prosecution to proceed

Testifying in Court

Tips on testifying:

  • Walk confidently to the witness stand and speak clearly so everyone in the courtroom can hear you.
  • Sit comfortably in the witness chair and do not make noises with your hands, feet, or chair. Do not chew gum.
  • State your answers truthfully and accurately in your own words.
  • Do not be afraid to say that you have discussed the facts of the crime with other people, such as the law enforcement officer, investigator, or prosecutor.
  • Think before you speak. If you do not understand a question, say so and ask to have it repeated or rephrased.
  • Correct wrong or unclear answers immediately.
  • Give definite answers if possible. If you do not know or recall, say so. Do not speculate. If you must estimate times or distances, state clearly that you are going so.
  • Be polite, serious, and even-tempered. Some attorneys may try to make you angry. Stay calm—do not argue or become sarcastic.
  • Stop immediately if the judge interrupts you or an attorney objects. Do not resume until the judge tells you to continue.
  • If asked whether you are being paid for coming to court, be straightforward and state that you are being reimbursed for your expenses by the state.

Tips for children testifying:

  • If a child has been called to testify, parents and caregivers should explain to children that they are not in trouble or facing punishment or jail. Reassure them that they will be safe and protected in the courtroom.
  • Have the child meet the prosecutor before the trial to prepare the child for testifying and to answer questions. Make sure the prosecutor has a clear understanding of the child’s developmental abilities and any special needs. This can also be a good time to tour the courtroom.
  • Explain to the child that it is okay to say that he or she does not understand or does not know the answer to a question. Talk to the prosecutor about having a support person present while the child is testifying and the possibility of the child bringing a comfort object (ex. teddy bear) with them to the stand.

Competency

A child under ten years of age is a competent witness unless the court finds that the child lacks the capacity to remember or to relate truthfully facts respecting which the child is examined. In order to determine a witness’s competency to testify, the judge will typically ask questions of that witness to determine competency. The judge will seek to determine whether the witness can tell the difference between the truth and a lie, whether the witness understands the importance of telling the truth, and whether the witness can remember and relate the facts.

Victim Impact Statements

Victim impact statements provide the victim the opportunity to tell the judge about the impact of the crime. At the sentencing or juvenile dispositional proceeding, victims may share the personal and financial toll the crime has taken on them and provide input on the offender’s sentence or the case disposition. A victim can be the individual who suffered loss or harm as a result of a crime, the family members, guardians, or the custodian of a minor, incapacitated, or deceased person. Communities also have the right to present an oral or written statement when they have been affected by a crime. A victim impact statement can include:

  • A summary of the physical and psychological harm or trauma the victim suffered as a result of the crime and any needed medical/dental interventions, whether one-time or ongoing;
  • A summary of the financial loss or damages the victim suffered as a result of the crime, including lost wages or ability to work, and a request for restitution for any out-of-pocket expenses;
  • The victim’s reactions or objections to the proposed sentence or juvenile disposition, including jail/prison time, work release privileges, community service options, treatment programs, and/or conditions of probation;
  • A statement of what outcome the victim would like and why;
  • Highlights about the victim, including past accomplishments, hopes for the future, and how the crime has impacted these activities;
  • Changes in lifestyle, such as ability to work, drive, or forced relocation;
  • The effect of sudden death on family members, such as loss of hopes, dreams, love, companionship, and financial security;
  • The overall effect the incident has had on the victim and their/her family.

The statement should not include profanity or threats to the offender or court personnel. The victim impact statement can take the form of a letter or a typed or handwritten statement. The prosecutor’s office will typically send out a victim impact statement form at the start of the case.

 

 

Contact

Attorney
Phone: 218-998-8400
Mailing: 121 West Junius Avenue, Fergus Falls, MN, USA

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