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National Crime Victim Law Institute

Fighting The Myth of Victimless Crimes

April 19, 2011

On April 26, 2008, in Yuma, Arizona, a five year old boy ran into the street chasing his soccer ball while playing during a family party.  Just as he ran out, a truck was coming.  Witnesses saw the truck brake for a split second but then speed away.  The little boy had been hit.  His father tried desperately to revive him, but he was unsuccessful.  This little boy died.  The police quickly identified the driver of the car, and the state brought charges against him – specifically, he was charged with “Leaving the Scene of a Fatal Injury Accident.” 

Nearly two years later, as the case was essentially on the eve of trial, defendant argued to the court that the little boy’s parents was were not “victims” in the case.  In fact, the defendant argued that there are no “victims” of the crime “leaving the scene of an accident.”  But being a “victim” is not just a label - only if you are a legally defined “victim” do you have rights, including the rights to be notified, present, and heard at proceedings, and, in Arizona, to refuse to be interviewed by the defense.  If defendant won his argument, it would mean that the little boy’s family, including his father who had tried to revive him, would have no rights and, in fact, would be subject to a defense interview. 

Unbelievably, the trial court in the case agreed with the defendant and ruled that the little boy’s family were not victims of this tragic crime and therefore lacked any rights.  Fortunately, the prosecutor reached out to NCVLI for help with an appeal, and NCVLI was able to quickly provide legal research.  Wonderfully, on March 1, 2011, the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and recognized that little boy’s parents were victims.  Because of this, the parents were able to claim all the rights afforded to victims, including the right to refuse to be interviewed by the defendant and his lawyers.

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The services NCVLI provided in this case were part of our free legal technical assistance project. 

NCVLI offers free legal research, writing, and strategic analysis to attorneys and advocates across the country in order to protect the rights of victims.  Practitioners can request help here.