Victims' Rights After Conviction

By Victor Palace | Vol . 27, No. 20 | June 2019

Did You Know?

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2017, 3.1 million people over age 12 reported being victims of violent crime during the prior six months. The National Center for Victims of Crime reports that 44% of women and 23% of men will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. These numbers do not include other forms of victimization, such as property damage or identity theft. Crime victimization is more common than one might imagine.     

More than three decades ago, West Virginia enacted the Victim Protection Act of 1984. In it, the legislature declared that the legal system would crumble without the cooperation of victims, and yet victims were often treated as mere tools to identify and punish offenders. Without access to information or even notifications of release, the legislature found, victims’ needs were grossly ignored by the legal system. West Virginia’s statute encapsulates the confusion and powerlessness crime victims faced before the passage of victims’ rights statutes.

Today, every state has a set of statutes intended to empower victims in the judicial process. Most states have even amended their constitutions to include a victims’ bill of rights to ensure lasting protection for victims of crime.

Post-Conviction. If a victim reports a crime, the crime is investigated, an arrest is made and the suspect is convicted, what happens next? Does the crime victim have the right to know if the convicted perpetrator is released or paroled?

According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, at least 95% of all state prisoners will be released at some point. Likewise, roughly 80% of all state prisoners will be released to parole supervision. Coupled with the fact that 5 in 6 state prisoners are likely to be arrested again after being released, a victim is likely to be interested in the release and parole of an offender. As used here:

  • “Release” is the release of an offender from imprisonment or incarceration, including the end of sentence, release on appeal, and reversal of sentence. (It does not include early release, such as compassionate release and reduction of sentence.)
  • “Parole” is the release of an offender while under the supervision of a parole agency, and it includes the grant and revocation of parole.

State Action

Many state lawmakers, believing the rights of crime victims do not end once an offender is sentenced, are considering and passing policies to give crime victims a voice post-conviction.

All states and the District of Columbia notify victims of release and parole proceedings. Many states grant victims the right to be notified of an offender’s release as a constitutional matter, including Arizona, Illinois and Texas. For some states, such as California, North Dakota and Ohio, the same is true for parole proceedings. Other states grant these rights only through statute, including Delaware, Kansas and New York.

Specific, enumerated rights for the victim to attend or be heard at release and parole proceedings are less common. Less than half of the states grant victims both the right to be present and the right to be heard in release proceedings.  

Victims have both the right to be present and the right to be heard in release proceedings in Arizona, District of Columbia, California, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah and Washington.

Victims only have the right to be heard in Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma. The right to be heard often takes the form of a written statement called a victim impact statement, in which the victim is able to convey how the crime has impacted his or her life, including its financial, physical and mental effects.

In parole proceedings, the vast majority of jurisdictions grant victims both the right to be present and the right to be heard. But there are exceptions. In Idaho and Maine, there is no right for crime victims to be present or heard at parole hearings. Both states (Idaho in 2019 and Maine in 2018) introduced bills to remedy this, but both measures were attached to larger victim’s rights bills with more controversial components and failed to pass. In Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota and Wyoming, crime victims have only the right to submit a written statement, without the right to be present.

In certain states, including Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey and Utah, victims are allowed to submit a video statement in addition to, or in lieu of, oral or written statements. California goes even further, giving victims the opportunity to have their victim statements simultaneously recorded and preserved upon request, and then be considered at a later date by the parole board.

Crime victims in some states, like California, Nevada and Utah, have the right to be accompanied by a family member, friend or another individual when attending proceedings or making statements. These individuals are meant to provide the victim with emotional support and increase their morale.