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National Crime Victim Law Institute

State of Wis. Crime Victims Rights Bd., The Right to Reasonable Protection from the Accused Throughout the Criminal Justice Process (Mar. 22, 2019), https://www.doj.state.wi.us/sites/default/files/ocvs/CVRB/CVRB%20RR%2034.pdf

April 18, 2019

Pursuant to statutory authority, the Crime Victims Rights Board (“Board”) is authorized to issue reports and recommendations concerning the securing and provision of crime victims’ rights and services.  This report was issued after review of a complaint before the Board alleging a violation of a victim’s constitutional right to reasonable protection from the accused throughout the criminal justice process by an elected clerk of the court.  The victim was a victim of felony child sexual assault.  Many years later, as an adult, she requested a copy of the case file from the trial judge’s clerk.  The clerk told the victim that she must make a written request to see the records and must use her full legal name and home address in making the request.  The victim asked to use her maiden name to shield her current name from the offender out of a concern for her safety, but the clerk refused.  The victim provided her full name and address as instructed in a written records request that became part of the public record.  When the victim’s name appeared in the case record history, she contacted the clerk of court to remove the public entry of her name.  The clerk of court removed the name and replaced it with “victim.”  The victim subsequently filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, which was ultimately reviewed by the Board.  She argued that by requiring her to put her married name, she was unreasonably and unnecessarily put at risk from the offender, who did not previously know her new name.  The Board determined the victim’s right to protection was violated, and the clerk bore responsibility for the court’s faulty policy as the custodian of the records filed in the county’s circuit court.  The Board expressed concern that the clerk still endorsed the practices that resulted in the disclosure of the victim’s name, and did not offer a solution that would be protective of victims in similar situations in the future; rather, the clerk’s conclusion was that the only course of action was to correct such errors after the fact if they are brought to the attention of the office.  In the Report, the Board found that not only the clerk, but all employees, agencies, and officials of the state share responsibility in enacting and promoting policies to ensure the protections enumerated in the state constitution in a manner that treats crime victims with fairness, dignity and respect for their privacy.  The Board noted that although crime victims’ privacy cannot be shielded absolutely during the criminal justice process, public policy nonetheless “demands the balancing of victims’ interests with competing interests.”  Further, it is “the duty of the state to earnestly perform this task of balancing through deliberate consideration and awareness of the standards set forth in statute and in the constitution.”  The Board continued: “All too often, the rights of victims are an afterthought or incorrectly viewed as a suggestions or ‘best practice’ or even a courtesy to provide if possible.  It is imperative that those with authority over policies that impact victims are cognizant of, and take action to protect, victims’ rights with a sense of purpose befitting a constitutional mandate.”