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One-of-a-kind national conference explores growing legal field of victims’ rights

June 10, 2011

Marking its tenth anniversary, the country’s only national conference devoted to crime victim issues was held in Portland June 14-15.

Keynote speakers included Susan Levy, the mother of Chandra Levy, whose murder drew national media attention. Levy will talk about her own experience in the judicial system and why victims’ rights are critical.

The National Crime Victim Law Institute (NCVLI) convened prosecutors, legal experts, and advocates from across the country for a conference with the theme, 10 Years of Rights Enforcement: Creating the Future of Crime Victim Law. NCVLI, an organization based at Lewis & Clark Law School, is focused on victims’ rights legal advocacy, education, and resource sharing.

More than 175 people from 20 states and the District of Columbia examined legal trends in crime victims’ rights and specific issues such as sexual assault, identity theft, and the impact of the Internet and technology on victim rights.

“Finally, crime victims are being heard,” said Meg Garvin, executive director of NCVLI and clinical law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School. “After a lot of litigating and educating, courts are finally recognizing that victims’ rights make victims legal participants in the system, participants who can independently speak in court to ask for their rights and independently seek remedies if someone violates their rights.”

Raising awareness for victims’ rights across the nation

The concept of rights for crime victims has gained considerable momentum across the United States in the last two decades. High-profile national stories such as the Arizona shooting in January that killed six people and wounded 14, including U.S. Congresswoman Gabriel Gifford, have brought attention to the need for victims to have rights during and after prosecution of the perpetrator.

Oregon passed its own comprehensive victim rights legislation in 2008. Last month, the Oregon Supreme Court heard its first case brought by a victim under the new constitutional amendment.

Working with NCVLI and an attorney trained by NCVLI, a victim had a case overturned because it violated her rights. When the case was first tried, the defendant—charged with stalking the victim—reached a plea deal that was accepted by the trial court without affording the victim her rights to be present and heard at the sentencing. In May, the Oregon Supreme Court threw out the sentence because it violated the victim’s rights.

Why victims’ rights?

Federal and state laws now afford rights to victims of crime, including victims of crimes such as domestic violence, sexual assault, drunk driving, identity theft, robbery, and homicide.

Rights that are enforceable allow victims access to critical information and a voice in the criminal justice process: timely notification of upcoming hearings and proceedings involving their case; the right to be present in the courtroom during proceedings; the right to confer with the prosecutor; the right to protection from the accused; the right to be heard at proceedings that affect their rights, including the sentencing following the conviction of their offender; and the right to restitution.

Conference highlights

This conference trained lawyers and advocates on the law and the “how to” of litigating victims’ rights. Other highlights from the conference:

  • Ensuring that the child’s voice is heard
  • Financial recovery for crime victims
  • Raped or ‘seduced’: How language helps shape our response to sexual violence
  • Counseling crime victims about the impact of immigration law on criminal cases
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