Victims of crime often suffer many forms of mental, emotional, and financial injury as a result of actions of others. Pursuing justice is often a daunting, intimidating process that can lead a crime victim to feel helpless. In Michigan, many people are unaware that crime victims have rights that are guaranteed by our State Constitution.
Article 1, Section 24 of Michigan’s Constitution guarantees:
1) the right to be treated with fairness and respect. That your dignity and privacy will be maintained throughout the criminal justice process;
2) the right to a timely resolution of the case once the accused has been arrested;
3) the right to be notified of all Court proceedings;
4) the right to be present at the trial (unless sequestered from the Courtroom) and for all other Court proceedings, including arraignment, pretrial, preliminary examination (for felony cases, unless sequestered from the Courtroom), and sentencing if a conviction occurs;
5) the right to speak with the assistant prosecutor assigned to the case to give your views about the case prior to the commencement of a trial and regarding any possible sentence;
6) the right to give a victim impact statement at sentencing. The victim is allowed to provide a oral and/or written statement to the Probation department to have it included in a presentence report. The victim is also allowed to make an oral and/or written statement to the Court at the time of sentencing;
7) the right to receive restitution. The victim is also entitled to receive notification of victim compensation benefits and the Victims’ Compensation Board. It should be noted that there are certain damages, such as pain and suffering, that are not awarded as part of restitution which may form the basis of a civil lawsuit;
8) the right to information about the conviction, sentence, imprisonment, and release of the accused.
9) the right to receive information regarding medical and emergency services;
10) to be free of threats and acts of discharge by your employer because you are a subpoenaed witness or requested to be a witness;
11) to be provided a waiting area at Court, separate from the Defendant, their family and witnesses, if possible;
12) Upon written request of a victim following the sentence of the Defendant, the victim is entitled:
a. to be notified of the location where the Defendant will be confined;
b. to receive notice of the earliest possible release date for the Defendant;
c. to be notified of the pending release of the Defendant to a community based program;
d. to be notified of the Defendant’s early release due to jail or prison overcrowding;
e. to be promptly notified of the Defendant’s escape;
f. to submit a written statement to the parole board;
g. to be notified of a hearing on reprieve commutation or pardon of sentence.
Even having these rights does not necessarily make the situation better. Crime victims also have the ability to hire a lawyer to assist them as a witness in a criminal case or to pursue damages through a civil lawsuit. Even though a victim is entitled to restitution, sometimes restitution does not cover all of the damages that the victim suffers. For example, as previously stated, pain and suffering is excluded from reimbursement through restitution. Furthermore, sometimes a victim can have an insurance company pay a claim that a Defendant cannot. It is important to understand that a lawyer will not always take a case for a contingency fee (meaning, the attorney fee is limited to a percentage of the recovery). A lawyer’s decision to handle a civil case depends upon: the ability to collect a judgment; the liability of the parties; how provable the case is; whether the lawyer handles a particular type of case; and many other reasons. However, just because one lawyer will not handle the case does not mean that another lawyer will not have a different opinion.
Pursuing justice may be limited by the statute of limitations (which applies to both criminal and civil cases), and this is why it is important for a victim to not procrastinate and seek help immediately. In some instances a police department or Prosecutor’s office may be reluctant to proceed with criminal charges. The input of a lawyer working for a victim may be helpful in this regard. The support of a lawyer often makes a difficult situation less stressful and easier to deal with.
There are sometimes instances in which a victim does not want to pursue a criminal charge against a Defendant. The reasons for this may include: that the call to the police was made in anger; the Defendant did not commit the crime; the alleged victim was not truthful to the police; the alleged victim is afraid of being prosecuted for a crime that he or she committed, etc. There are some instances in which an alleged victim can effectively assert a fifth amendment privilege, or a spousal privilege, in order to avoid testifying. To assert a privilege is complicated, and should be pursued (when appropriate) with the help of an experienced lawyer. There are instances when an unrepresented alleged victim is intimidated into testifying by the police, the Prosecution, the Court, family members, insurance agencies, etc.
Hiring the right lawyer may be one of the most important decisions you make for yourself and your family. There are many lawyers who claim to do more than what they are able – just as there are many surgeons in the world that are no better than butchers. Do not settle for a legal hack job. Practicing law is a skill that develops over time with experience, commitment, dedication, and God given talent. There are no amateur attorneys at Hilf & Hilf, PLC – only professionals that are guided by the humanity in the individuals we serve, and the drive not to settle for what is easy over what is right.