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Beaumaster: National Crime Victims' Rights Week

Knowing your rights in advance of becoming a victim will help you through the process and give you reasonable expectations as to what will or will not happen as you navigate the criminal justice system.

This year we dedicate the week not only to educating the public regarding victims’ rights, but also to honoring crime victims and the nation’s progress in advancing their rights. Each year 18.7 million Americans are directly harmed by crime, and each crime affects many more family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. The physical, emotional, and financial impact of crime falls on people of all ages and abilities, and of all economic, racial, and social backgrounds. Crime victims face a criminal justice system that, at times, ignores their rights and treats them with disregard throughout the process. The fact that at any time any one of us might become a victim of crime invests all of us in the concept of victim rights.

Knowing your rights in advance of becoming a victim will help you through the process and give you reasonable expectations as to what will or will not happen as you navigate the criminal justice system. Thanks to many dedicated survivors of crime, advocates and law enforcement leaders who have worked with law makers and the court system, today if you become a victim of crime you have the right to:

  1. A speedy trial

  2. Know the contents of any plea agreements

  3. Learn the final disposition of the case

  4. Restitution and a Victim Impact Statement

  5. Protection from employer retaliation against victims/witnesses called to testify and against victims of violent crimes and their family members who take reasonable time off to attend court proceedings

  6. Be notified and present at court proceedings

  7. Submit statement regarding decision to discharge/release offender from civil commitment

  8. Be informed of prosecutor’s decision to decline prosecution or dismiss case, along with information about seeking a protective or harassment order at no fee

  9. Not be required to pay the cost of a sexual assault examination

  10. Not be required to undergo a polygraph examination in order for a sexual assault investigation or prosecution to proceed.

Since 1965, when the first crime victims’ rights laws began to appear, the lot of victims has been improving. In 1982, the President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime envisioned a national commitment to a more equitable and supportive response to victims. Minnesota was at the forefront of the nation in heeding this call to action and has promoted victims’ rights with initiatives to provide effective and compassionate victim services, including just compensation and financial support for victims of crime.

Today in Rice County we have several victim assistance programs providing help and support to child victims of violence and sexual abuse; stalking victims; survivors of homicide victims; victims of drunk-driving crashes; and victims of domestic, dating, and sexual violence and other crimes. Organizations such as Hope Center, MADD, Ruth’s House and others stand ready to assist those who become victims of crime and to assure the criminal justice system hears them and respects the rights of the victim. My office has a victim/witness coordinator and advocate who provides services to victims of crime and works to vindicate their rights. Most of the victim assistance programs noted were not around 20 years ago, and would not be here today but for the many advocates willing to champion the cause of victim’s rights and volunteer time and donate money to these programs. Each of the programs mentioned relies on volunteers to deliver services to victims and support those providing services. We as a community here in Rice County owe a great deal of thanks to those individuals who volunteer to serve and protect victims of crime as they interact with the criminal justice system.

We still have a long way to go in providing comprehensive services to all victims of crime and reaching and serving every victim of crime, especially traditionally underserved victims such as those with disabilities and victims from diverse cultures. I hope you will all join in the continued fight for victims’ rights and crime prevention. The Rice County Attorney’s Office will continue to bring criminals to justice and justice to victims of crime.

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