Defendants Have The Right To Remain Silent...
Victims Have The Right To Be Heard.
In the past victims were treated as witnesses rather than actual participants in the criminal justice system. This limited their ability to set in on court sessions or have direct input into their cases. The Victim Witness Program began in the late 1970's in an effort to provide much needed services for crime victims. Then in November 1992, Colorado voters passed an amendment to the Colorado Constitution giving victims of violent crime specific rights within the justice system.
The Victim Rights Amendment provides violent crime victims with three basic rights:
- To be treated with fairness, dignity and respect
- To be informed of the progress of the case
- To be present and heard at all critical stages of the criminal justice process
The District Attorney and all the staff strive daily to uphold these rights. The following section gives information drawn from the Colorado Victim Rights Amendment.
The Victim Rights Act states that victims have the right:
- To be treated with fairness, respect and dignity;
- To be informed of and present for all "critical stages" of the criminal justice process;
- To be free from intimidation, harassment, or abuse; and to have the right to be informed about what steps can be taken if there is any intimidation or harassment by a person accused or convicted of the crime or anyone acting on the person's behalf;
- To be given appropriate employer intercession services regarding court appearances and meetings with criminal justice officials;
- To be assured that in any criminal proceeding the court, the prosecutor, and other law enforcement officials will take appropriate action to achieve a swift and fair resolution of the proceedings;
- To be present and heard regarding bond reduction, continuances, acceptance of plea negotiations, case disposition, or sentencing;
- To consult with the district attorney prior to any disposition of the case or before the case goes to trial and to be informed of the final disposition of the case; To be informed of the status of the case and any scheduling changes, if known in advance;
- To prepare a Victim Impact Statement and to be present and/or heard at sentencing;
- To have restitution ordered and to be informed of the right to pursue a civil judgment against the person;
- To receive a prompt return of property when it is no longer needed as evidence;
- To be informed of the availability of financial assistance and community services;
- Whenever practicable, to have a safe, secure waiting area during court proceedings;
- Upon request, to be informed when a person accused or convicted of the crime is released from custody, is paroled, escapes or absconds from probation or parole;
- Upon written request, to be informed of and heard at any reconsideration of sentence, parole hearing, or commutation of sentence;
- Upon written request, to be informed of the filing of a complaint, summons, or warrant by probation for failure to report or because location of a person convicted of a crime is unknown, request for change of venue or transfer of probation supervision, request for release from probation supervision prior to the expiration of original sentence;
- Upon written request, to be informed when a person convicted of a crime is placed in or transferred to a less secure correctional facility or program or is permanently or conditionally transferred or released from any state hospital;
- To be informed of any rights which the victim has pursuant to the Constitution of the State of Colorado;
- To be informed of the process for enforcing compliance with the Victim Rights Act.
Crimes Covered by the Victim Rights Act
The Constitution of the State of Colorado and the laws of the state [Section 24-4.1-302(1) C.R.S.] guarantee certain rights to victims of the following criminal acts:
- Criminally negligent homicide and vehicular homicide;
- Sexual assault;
- Incest and aggravated incest;
- Child abuse;
- Sexual exploitation of children
- Crimes against at-risk adults and at-risk juveniles;
- Indecent exposure;
- Violation of a criminal protection order issued against a person charged with sexual assault;
- Robbery-aggravated, aggravated of a controlled substance;
- Crimes for which the underlying foundation has been determined to be domestic violence;
- Careless driving that results in the death of another person;
- Failure to stop at the scene of an accident that results in the death of another person;
- Ethnic intimidation;
- Retaliation against a victim or witness;
- Tampering with a victim or witness;
- Intimidation and aggravated intimidation of a victim or witness; and
- Any criminal attempt, conspiracy, criminal solicitation, or accessory involving any of the crimes specified above. If a victim is deceased or incapacitated, these rights may be exercised by the victim's spouse, parent, child, sibling, grandparent, significant other, or other lawful representative.
A victim's rights are related to certain "critical stages" in the criminal justice process. These stages include:
- Filing of charges and the decision not to file charges;
- Preliminary hearing;
- Any bond reduction or modification hearing;*
- Arraignment hearing;
- Motions hearing;
- Any subpoena for a victim's mental health, medical, education or victim compensation records;
- Disposition of the complaint or charges against the person accused;*
- Sentencing hearing;*
- Appellate review or appellate decision;
- Sentence reconsideration;*
- Probation revocation hearing;
- Transfer, release, or escape of a person charged with or convicted of a crime from any state hospital;
- The filing of a complaint, summons, or warrant by probation for failure to report or because the location of a person convicted of a crime is unknown;
- The change of venue or transfer of probation supervision;
- Request for release from probation supervision prior to the expiration of the defendant's sentence;
- An attack on judgment or conviction for which a court hearing is set;
- Parole application hearing;
- Parole, release, or discharge from imprisonment of a person convicted of a crime;
- Parole revocation hearing;
- Transfer to or placement of a person convicted of a crime in a non-secure facility;
- The execution of an offender in a capital case.
- Any petition by a sex offender to terminate sex offender registration; and
*In addition to the right to be informed and present, the victim also has a right to be heard at hearings on bond reduction or modification, disposition of the case such as acceptance of a negotiated plea, and at sentencing.
District Attorneys' Responsibilities
District Attorneys' Offices have the responsibility to notify crime victims of:
- The filing of charges and provide an explanation of the charges;
- Decisions not to file charges in felony cases;
- Appropriate critical stages and the date, time and place of specified critical stages in the court proceedings;
- The name of the deputy district attorney handling the case and the court to which the case is assigned;
- Any pending motion that may substantially delay the prosecution and inform the court of the victim's position on the motion;
- The availability of any benefits and/or transportation to and from court; and
- Any scheduling changes or cancellations, if such changes or cancellations are known in advance.
In addition, the District Attorney shall:
- Consult, where practicable, with the victim concerning the reduction of charges, negotiated pleas, dismissal or other dispositions;
- Minimize contact between the victim and the defendant before, during, and immediately after a court proceeding;
- Facilitate the prompt return of a victim's property when it is no longer needed for evidentiary reasons;
- Provide the victim with the opportunity to prepare a victim impact statement that is given to the Court;
- Inform the victim of the function of a pre-sentence report and the name and telephone number of the probation officer preparing the report, as well as the defendant's right to view the pre-sentence report and the victim impact statement;
- Explain the victim's right to attend and express an opinion at the sentencing hearing;
- Inform the victim of any hearing for reconsideration or modification of a sentence; and
- Inform the victim of the right to receive information from correctional officials concerning the imprisonment and release of a person convicted of a crime against the victim.
Law Enforcement's Responsibilities
Law enforcement agencies have the responsibility to provide victims of crime with written information about:
- The rights enumerated in the Victim Rights Act;
- The availability of financial resources such as victim compensation benefits and how to apply for those benefits;
- The availability of protective court orders in order to obtain protection from the person accused of committing the crime; and
- The availability of public records related to the case.
In addition, law enforcement agencies are required to:
- Provide information about community services such as crisis intervention services, victim assistance resources, legal resources, mental health services, financial services and other support services;
- Provide information about interpretation services, assistance in dealing with creditors due to financial setbacks caused by the crime and childcare to enable a crime victim to cooperate with the prosecution;
- Provide the victim of crime with the business address and telephone number of the district attorney's office, the file number of the case and the name, business address and telephone number of any law enforcement officer assigned to investigate the case;
- Keep the victim of crime informed as to whether a suspect has been taken into custody and, if known, whether the suspect has been released from custody and any bond conditions imposed upon the suspect;
- Update the victim on the status of the case, prior to the filing of charges;
- Upon the request of the victim, return the victim's property within 5 working days when it is no longer needed for evidentiary reasons;
- Inform victims of crime about decisions not to file charges in misdemeanor cases;
- Inform all victims of cold cases of any change in the status of the case; and
- Upon written request, provide victims of cold cases for which the crime has a statute of limitations of longer than three years with an annual update concerning the status of the case.
Probation Department's Responsibilities
Upon written request of the victim, the Probation Department shall:
- Provide the victim with the location and telephone number of the probation department responsible for the supervision of the person;
- Notify the victim of the date of the person's termination from probation supervision;
- Advise the victim of any requested release of the person in advance of the person's imposed sentence;
- Notify the victim of the date of a probation revocation or modification hearing;
- Advise the victim of any change of venue or transfer of probation supervision from one jurisdiction to another;
- Notify the victim of any complaint, summons, or warrant filed by the probation department for failure to report to probation or because the location of the person is unknown;
- Notify the victim of the death of a person while under the jurisdiction of the probation department; and
- In domestic violence cases, notify the victim of any conduct by the defendant that results in an increase in the defendant's supervision level by probation.
Victims of crime have the following responsibilities:
- Keep appropriate criminal justice authorities informed of their or their representative's current name, address, and telephone number, and any changes in this information;
- Provide a written request to the appropriate agency if they want to be notified of information regarding the postsentencing process.
- Request forms for enrollment information can be obtained from the District Attorney's Office, the Probation Department, the Department of Corrections, the Division of Youth Corrections or the local jail;
- For victims of cold cases for which the crime has a statute of limitations of longer than three (3) years, to request in writing an annual update in the status of the case;
- To request notification of the release of a person accused or convicted of a crime from the county jail;
- To request notification by the court of a defendant's petition to stop sex offender registration; and
- To request that correctional officials keep their address, telephone, place of employment and other personal information confidential.
If you feel that your rights have been violated, you should attempt to seek compliance on the local level:
Victim/Witness Program Director
Office of the District Attorney
201 La Porte Avenue, Suite 200
Fort Collins, CO 80521-2763
If all local efforts to obtain your rights have failed, you may request assistance from the Coordinating Committee:
Colorado Department of Public Safety
Division of Criminal Justice
700 Kipling Street, Suite 1000
Denver, CO 80215-4442
1-888-282-1080 Toll Free
For a complete listing of your rights refer to Colorado Revised Statutes 24-4.1-101. If you have any additional questions or desire additional information on crime victim rights, contact the Victim Witness Unit at 498-7285.
For more information, see the Department of Criminal Justice, Office of Victim Services brochure Crime Victims have Rights.