April is crime victim's rights month in my states. Today, my post addresses some of the things victims should know have been harmed by criminal wrongdoing.
1: Medical bills can be paid by the Crime Victim’s Fund in most states.
One of the first things that crime victims have is how are they going to pay their bills. If you have health insurance, that should pay any bills related to your injury. But if you have co-pays, or you have not met your deductible, most states have programs called the Crime Victims Compensation Fund that will pay for your out of pocket expenses. In some states, such as West Virginia, once you apply for the funds, the medical providers cannot bill you. Our office helps victims file applications in West Virginia where the fund pays for these legal services. Please note that in D.C., the law is different, and our office will refer you to get help with the application, but we cannot fill it out for you.
2: The prosecutor is not the victim's lawyer.
Often, after a crime, you may be contacted by the prosecuting attorney, district or states’ attorney. They might meet with you several times during your case. In other situations, they may never contact you, and you will be subpoenaed to court whenever there is a hearing scheduled. In all circumstances, the attorney that is prosecuting the case represents the state where the crime was committed. They do not represent the victim. Sometimes, your interest and the prosecutor’s interest can be the same. Other times they will not be. If you have questions about your legal rights or if you want some help deciding what is best for you, contact a privately retained attorney to answer those questions.
3: Most cases do not go to trial.
After watching television, we might believe that every case goes to trial, and every verdict is for the state. However, this is not true. In the United States less than five percent of the criminal cases that are filed each year to go a trial. The rest are settled before trial. This means that the case is dismissed, or the offender pleads guilty (or no contest) to a crime. When you are a victim of a crime and the offender is arrested, you should remember that the case is unlikely to go to trial, but stay on top of the case so that you can be prepared if happens.
4: Restorative Justice may be able to provide you with options that the conventional system does not.
Most cases in the United States are addressed through what we know of as a retributive process. This means that the offender is charged and if found guilty is punished. Another way to address criminal wrong doing is through a process called restorative justice. I became interested in restorative justice when I was a prosecutor and found that many victims were not satisfied by the prosecution, even when the offender was convicted received a long prison sentence. I wanted to explore more options. Restorative justice might help with those options, including victim offender conferencing and family group conferencing.
5: If the offender is incarcerated, you need to sign up to receive an alert is he or she is released.
If the offender is arrested, you need to take action be sure that you will be notified if the offender is released. To do that in West Virginia, you can sign up with VINE and provide the information. That way, if he or she makes bond or is otherwise released, you’ll find out.
This provision of the law was part of a bill I worked on in the early 1990s after I had a client who ran into her ex-husband who had sexually abuse her children at a gas station about three years after he was convicted. She had no idea that he was released.
When you are a victim of a crime, you may feel that you are out of control and that there is nothing you can do. These five things that you should know can help provide you a place to start. I meet with most victims free of charge to help you find the way and decide what might be right for you. Please contact me to set up a private meeting.