WANT TO HELP A VICTIM OF CRIME? THINK TWICE ABOUT SETTING UP A GOFUNDME ACCOUNT

After a tragedy, folks often gather to help out those who have suffered, any way  they can.  At one time, we probably would bake casseroles for each other and plan a church service.  Today, one of the things that I've noticed happening is that folks set up a Go Fund Me account to help cover medical or funeral expenses. 

These accounts often raise funds for the victims and may be helpful.  However,  I am concerned that sometimes they may not be as effective as other ways to help the victim or their families.  In fact, in some situations, the accounts may cause further harm to the family.

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Victims Rights when a Loved one Dies of a Drug Overdose

Drug overdoses are epidemic.  Increasingly, prosecutors are responding by filing criminal charges.  Recently, charges were filed in Jefferson County, West Virginia after the death from a drug overdose.  Similar prosecutions and policies in favor or prosecuting drug dealers have been conducted in Virginia

Losing a loved one over a drug overdose is a terrible, tragic loss.  Friends and family members are filled with grief and sadness.  Often, we are also filled with unanswered questions and unmet needs. Those questions can swirl around and torment the survivors.  How could this happen?  Why did it happen?  Couldn’t anyone do some something to prevent it?  How can I help anyone else from suffering from this horrible thing happening to them?

The family may have many unmet needs, including  financial needs such as payment for outstanding medical bills, funeral and burial expenses, and counseling expenses for the survivors.   While the financial needs are not paramount, they may lead to further stress, anger and frustration.

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What are the “rights” of the survivors that may help meet these needs? 

West Virginia, unlike many states, does not include a constitutional provision providing rights to victims, but in the 1980’s passed a statute granting crime victims certain rights. 

Virginia has passed a constitutional amendment granting crime victims certain rights including a potential reimbursement of expenses through the crime victim’s fund. 

Maryland and DC also have very specific rights granted to crime victims.  The DC provisions are statutory and include a specific DC Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights. Maryland law includes a group of statutory rights for victims.  

However, law enforcement officials may not charge distributors with a crime.   Funds for out of pocket expenses may be still be obtained from the crime victim funds.  Most crime victim laws provide the victim’s family an opportunity to both apply for funds even when there is no prosecution or conviction.  Families may also meet with law enforcement or prosecuting attorneys to ask questions and determine why no formal charges were filed.

 

 

The following questions are those that many victims have asked me over the last several years.

What types of criminal charges are possible or have been filed?

In some situations, the drug dealer who provides an illegal drug that results in an overdose can be held criminally responsible.  The charges range from the illegal distribution of the drug to voluntary manslaughter to second degree murder.

What if the drugs are prescribed by a physician?

Increasingly, physicians are held responsible by the courts, particularly civilly,  for overprescribing pain medications.  Recently CNN published a story summarizing those legal actions. 

I’ve heard that my county sued the drug companies.  Is that true?

In West Virginia, county councils have initiated  litigation  against both pharmaceutical companies seeking damages for the opioid crisis.  These cases are similar to class actions and seek damages for what the crisis has caused to our communities.

Perhaps all of this court involvement may be confusing.   These statutes and constitutional provisions, as well as the potential fo civil litigation may help you get some answers and try to   Contact my office if you have questions about cases in West Virginia or DC.  We have represented many victims, including the family members of drug overdose victims, in trying to find answers and get their bills paid.  In most situations in West Virginia, you will not be required to pay any attorney fees unless there is a civil recovery.  If you are in Virginia, contact your county Commonwealth Attorney's office to have your questions answered.   If you are in Maryland, you may be eligible for a free lawyer.  

 

 

FINDING SECURITY FOR CRIME VICTIMS: LOCATING AN OFFENDER WHO HAS BEEN ARRESTED

Victims of crimes have many needs.  We work with victims, families, and the community to help address those needs following the wrongdoing.  Most victims of trauma have a need to feel emotionally and physically secure.  I’ve found that many victims want assurance that they know where the offender may is located.  In my final post during crime victim’s rights month, I want to remind victims that we can easily find out whether or not the offender has been arrested or is incarcerated. We can also find information about sex offenders on websites maintained by most states. In this post, I’ll provide the websites for DC and West Virginia. 

To find out if the offender is incarcerated:    

  • In West Virginia you can search for whether or not he or she is in a regional jail here.
  • In West Virginia, once an offender is convicted, he or she may be incarcerated in the state system.  To look for an offender in that system, look here.  
  • For federal crimes including the District of Columbia, If an offender has been charged with a federal crime and is in the federal system, look here.  

Offenders who are required to register as a sex offender upon conviction will appear in public registries.

In West Virginia, the registry is located here.  

 In the District of Columbia, the registry is here.

Remember, victims of crime should register with VINE in their jurisdiction to be sure to receive notice when an offender is released.  Crime victims in West Virginia and the District of Columbia can always schedule a meeting with me, at no cost, to help figure out how to have needs addressed.  Contact me to set that up.

FIVE THINGS THAT EVERY VICTIM OF CRIME SHOULD KNOW

Today’s blog post is another in the series recognizing April as National Crime Victim’s Rights Month. In today’s post I will address five things that every victim should know:

  • Medical bills can be paid by the crime victim’s fund in most states.
  • The prosecutor is not the victim’s lawyer.
  • Most cases do not go to trial.
  • Restorative Justice may provide you with more options than the conventional judicial system.
  • When an offender is incarcerated you should sign up for a notification if he or she is released.

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FILING FOR DIVORCE IN WEST VIRGINIA WITHOUT A LAWYER: SHOULD VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE FILE WITHOUT A LAWYER?

Between mediations, court appearances and the Virginia Mediation Mini-Conferences, I missed writing my monthly post on how to get a divorce without a lawyer.   I’m back and this week is National Crime Victim’s Rights Week. All of my posts during April will focus on crime victims. Today, I’m addressing whether or not you can get a divorce without a lawyer when you, or your child, are a victim of crime and the offender is the other parent, or a stepparent.  

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RESTORATIVE JUSTICE FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME

This weekend I will be joining lawyers from all over the United States in Harrisonburg, Virginia to participate in a symposium, “Restorative Justice’s Role in the Expanding Concepts and Structures of the Practice of Law in the United States.” Sponsored by the Campbell University College of Law and the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice, we will be addressing topics such as “A Trauma-Informed Legal Practice” and “How Restorative Practices are Affecting Systemic Change.”  Of course, I am most excited to hear what Professor Zehr will bring to the symposium during Friday night's  session, “Restorative Justice: Continuing the Conversation.”    

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WHEN MORE THAN ONE PERSON CAUSES AN INJUry: JOINT AND SEVERAL LIABILITY

Yesterday, The West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill that could make it much more difficult for many victims to recover medical expenses or other damages after an accident or a crime.  West Virginia H.B. 2002 abolishes “joint liability.”  Reading the bill may be pretty confusing, full of legal terms such as “comparative fault” and “joint liability.”  In this post, I’ll try to explain what it means and how this change in the law could impact you.  If you have been injured in an accident or if you are a victim of crime, this may make it more difficult for you to fully recover.

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DOES THE VICTIM OF A CRIME NEED A LAWYER?

Victims are often overwhelmed following a crime.  Victims may be faced with a lot of questions and not many answers.  How will my bills get paid?  Do I have to attend the court hearing?  Who will represent me?  What if I don't want the case to be prosecuted?  Our office accepts cases in West Virginia, the District of Columbia and Maryland and can help victims find some of these answers.  Brenda has worked as a prosecutor, defense counsel and holds a master's degree with an emphasis in Restorative Justice.  

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