New Provisions Coming In Crime Victims Rights Act
According to recent studies, the rate of violent crimes in the United States has declined in recent years. Even so, a violent crime occurs on average once every 22 seconds. This means that every morning while we are going about our works, or every evening we are enjoying at home with our families, hundreds of individuals become victims of violent crime. It is for these people that we have just completed the observance of Crime Victim's Rights Week. (April 22-28).
For many years, there was a seemingly lack of concern for crime victims in the judicial process.
The long-term impact of crime on victims was given little regard, and victims had little input. During this year's Crime Victim's Rights Week, the people of Michigan can justifiably celebrate the significant advancements that have been made by and for victims of crime.
This year marked the sixteenth anniversary of Michigan's Crimes Victims' Rights Act, which created a cutting-edge response to the lack of adequate concern for victims. The Crime Victim's Rights Act provides victims with unprecedented legal rights, and has become a model that many other states follow in creating their own laws to protect crime victims.
As a result of the Crimes Victims' Rights Act, every crime victim now receives written notice of his or her rights from investigating law enforcement agencies within 24 hours. In addition to this notification process, victims have protection if threatened, the opportunity to attend trials and the right to receive restitution from the perpetrator. Victims also have the discretion of consulting with the prosecutor before any plea bargain with the accused can be established.
After the trial phase of a case is completed and a criminal faces sentencing, the victim can submit a victim impact statement to the court for consideration. After the perpetrator is put in jail, a victim has the right to always know where the criminal is incarcerated and when he or she is scheduled for release.
Victims also have the right to address the governing parole board whenever a criminal is being considered for parole.
These victim rights gained a more permanent status in Michigan law with their inclusion in the state constitution. Previous to this amendment, the constitution provided rights for criminal defendants without even mentioning crime victims. The amendment was approved with overwhelming support of Michigan voters in 1988, and became Article 1, Section 24 of the Michigan Constitution. In the early 1990's, a federal Crime Victims Rights Act was approved using language from Michigan's constitutional amendment.
The area of crime victim rights holds the potential for continuing improvement, and today we are poised to further strengthen those rights with a new law that will take effect on June 1. Public Act 503 of 2000 gives greater privacy protection to crime victims and provides new tools for courts to use in ensuring victim restitution.
Under current law, the public can gain access to very private victim information through a simple request under the Freedom of Information Act. This could include visual representations of a victim's private parts or sexual contact involving the victim. The new law exempts such information from public access and disclosure, ensuring the privacy of victims is protected.
While the Crime Victim's Rights Act and constitution amendment provide for restitution to victims, the new law will significantly expand the payments that an order of restitution may include. It will also allow a court to order triple restitution if a crime results in death or seriously impairment of a victim's body function. Courts will be required to order wage assignments for employed defendants who owe restitution and must recognize that restitution to the victim supersedes other assessments in terms of order and collection.
These additions to the Crime Victim's Rights Act will keep Michigan at the forefront of granting victims fundamental rights. The empowerment of crime victims in our state has energized their involvement with the criminal justice system, an involvement that has improved the system in a way that none of us could have imagined 15 years ago. It is clear to see that justice is served and victims are protected when victim rights are established and implemented strongly in our laws.