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Vail Valley Voices: Victims need greater voice in courtroom

Bruce Brown
Vail, CO, Colorado

Current victim’s rights laws are helpful to many people who have been harmed by others, but efforts still continue to expand the types of cases in which victims have rights.

Victim’s rights cases are limited to specific crimes such as assault, menacing and child abuse, implying that if you are injured at the hands of a criminal in an unlisted crime, because the law doesn’t identify the charged crime as one entitling “victim’s rights,” you are excluded from dignified court case participation.

Stated in another way, there are certain crime victims who have no rights, such as in an extortion case, because criminal extortion is a crime that didn’t make the list. When unlisted, you simply have no victim’s rights.

A current legislative effort to enlarge victim’s rights laws takes an incremental approach to expand victim’s rights, adding to the listed crimes, human trafficking, indecent exposure and first-degree burglary.

The bill HB 12-1053, also makes important changes to the manner in which victims are kept informed of cases, and offenders. Under current law, a victim can only be kept apprised of the case by mail or telephone. But with this new legislation, email is added, giving many people who rely heavily on their mobile devices and computers a better chance to stay involved, a common sense and economical notification expansion.

While expanding victim’s rights to more types of crimes, as proposed, is laudable, that approach is still too limiting, too excluding a method for classifying victim right’s crimes, failing in some cases to address people whose suffering justifies inclusion in the judicial process.

Anyone who has spent time in a criminal court knows that there is nothing more compelling, and oftentimes heart-shattering, than hearing a victim tell of the emotional and physical pain they have suffered. These moments are indelible marks, lasting years beyond their telling.

Victim participation can be therapeutic to the person harmed, connect the offender to the consequences of their act, and give a judge the necessary information to make a righteous sentencing decision. Without proper victim involvement, there is an unacceptable risk that offender accountability is avoided.

Further adjustments to the current system amplifying victim’s rights is needed to pair legal definitions, which include only some crimes as victim rights crimes to instead, encompass many unnamed circumstances where criminal conduct victimizes individuals. Court decisions need to account for an individual victim needs and limited definitions of victim’s rights crimes, often miss the mark.

So many of life’s struggles can end up in a courtroom. A victim entering a courtroom should be understood on terms defining their individually circumstances, and not be subjected to inflexible definitions. There is no higher purpose of laws, and the existence of courts, secularly holy places, than respect for individuals. Individual respect is not just an idea, but by respecting a person for who they really are, we achieve the ideal, “liberty for all.”

In criminal cases, our U.S. and Colorado constitutions both once spelled out only the rights of defendants, ignoring victims. This imbalance led to the 1993 enactment of the State’s Victim’s Rights Act, guaranteeing that some victims be given voice, informed of legal processes and treated with respect and dignity.

We need to continue to expand paths to assure victim’s voices, honoring individual circumstance, and not exclude persons harmed, due to limited definitions of victim’s rights offenses.

Bruce Brown is a licensed attorney and practices law in Clear Creek County. He can be reached at bruce@brucebrownlaw.com. He is also a candidate for district attorney. His website is brucebrownforda.com.


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