North Carolina has become the thirty-second state that amended its constitution to provide the crime victim’s rights. In 1996, the electors of North Carolina gave 78% of their votes to the amendment of victim's rights. According to it, official agencies received additional obligations in relation to crime victims whereas victims gained additional rights.
Law Enforcement is obliged to provide the victim with information about available compensation and medical care. District Attorney’s Office is obliged to explain to the victim his/her rights, notify about the date and place of trial sessions as well as provide secure waiting area and opportunity to discuss the case. The Attorney General’s Office is obliged to notify the victim about any appellate proceedings. The Governor’s Office is obliged to notify if there are any clemency proceedings. The custody agency is obliged to notify the victim about the custody status of the accused such as release, escape, or death. Victims have a right to add new evidence that can have influence on the trial outcome or sentence of the accused (NC Victim Assistance Network, 1996).
State legislature hopes that these measures provided by law will help the crime victims to feel more confident and secure.
The Rights of Victims in North Carolina
In November 1996, the electors of North Carolina voted to supplement the Victims’ Rights Amendment to the constitution of the state. North Carolina followed the example of 31 other U.S. states that had already made amendments. According to the Victims’ Right Amendment, official agencies received additional obligations in relation to crime victims whereas victims gained additional rights. Pursuant to the Crime Commission of the Governor on December 13 of the same year, course of action was determined by unanimous voting to give the complete support to the passage of enabling legislation according to the Crime Victims' Constitutional Rights. Simultaneously, the General Assembly of North Carolina was obliged to assign and budget sufficient amount of resources, so that this lawmaking did not become an excessive burden on the criminal justice system of North Carolina.
Difficulties to Make the Amendment Work
It is vital to understand that practical application of the legislating amendments should be executable: that appropriate sacrifices have to be made though being not burdening for the legislative system concerning trivial cases. To execute the new law properly, certain mechanisms of pliability should work to provide the victims with enforceable rights. However, these mechanisms are mainly fiscal and controlled by the criminal justice system that is generally understaffed and overwhelmed with the flow of criminal cases. To guarantee the effectiveness of the Victims’ Rights Amendment execution and to ensure that the Amendment supports and protects victims, the Crime Commission of Governor advised to the General Assembly on the issues concerning legal definition of crime victims that comes within the amendment, providers of services, and the way in which the services should be implemented. It was assumed that the bill was intended for victims who suffer from direct emotional or physical trauma. The task of enabling legislation is to select such a "victim" among multiple criminal cases and victims. Majority of states that have in their law the amendments have used following three definitions of victims: those of any criminal offense, victims of violent and felony offense, and victims with emotional and physical trauma.
In 2011, there were identified 245 thousand individuals as victims of any criminal offence in North Carolina. Such quantity of victims creates an overwhelming burden for the criminal justice system. The quantity of crimes can be limited by 45000 involving violent crimes victims and this figure is acceptable enough for the legislation system to manage. However, this limitation has a result of excluding such critical cases as children sexual abuses that mainly are not physically brutal cases and DWI (driving while intoxicated) cases, the victims of which often result in serious trauma or even death. So, the most correct term is a victim of emotional or physical trauma. However, the definition of this legislating term should be clear enough for the meaningful application. Some states have cleared this definition by categorizing crimes, classifying victims and crimes, and providing each category or class with a special set of rights. Theoretically, this detailed classification should provide explicit guidelines, yet in practice it permits misinterpretation. According to the law, agencies should target the victims of emotional and physical trauma. However, this definition could include any victim. Therefore, it remains the privilege of the court to decide who should be identified as a victim with rights entitled by the Amendment (North Carolina: Department of Justice, 2012).
Victims have a right to have information concerning their rights as victims, the crime, the criminal justice system’s working schedule and procedures, medical care, and other services. A victim is entitled to be informed about all court procedures and be present at all trial sessions. A victim has a right to discuss the trial with the prosecutor and to appear in court with a VIS (Victim Impact Statement). A victim is entitled to speak up with additional information at the sentencing of the accused. A victim also has a right to obtain restitution. A victim has a full right to know all the information about the final disposition or conviction as well as sentence of the accused. Victims are entitled to explain their concern and point of view to the Governor or agency concerning the release of the accused. Victims also have some responsibilities. If they want to get notification and to be updated about court procedures, they have to notify their Victim Witness Assistant in the office of District Attorney about any changes in their address or phone number. If victims get threats from the accused or someone else in North Carolina, they should immediately call the police or report to the prosecutor or the Victim Witness Assistant (NC Victim Assistance Network. 1996).
The Victims Compensation Program
The Compensation Program for victims is supervised by the Justice Services and Division of Victim. The compensation program is created to help those who were exposed to personal trauma or death caused by criminal actions that took place on August 13, 1987 and after that. According to the North Carolina law, the victim of crime or an authorized representative may claim compensation during two years. Following categories of people are entitled to get compensation: victims and authorized representatives of deceased victims as well as an authorized third person except those who are employed within the compensation system. The program is created to compensate medical expenses, lost earnings, and substitution services, for example, childcare or disability expenses. In North Carolina, the maximum amount of compensation is 30 thousand dollars that are paid if the person was killed in the result of a crime. In such cases, additional 5 thousand dollars are paid to the authorized representative as a compensation of funeral expenses (NC Victim Assistance Network, 1996).
The District Attorney's Obligations to Victims
The office of District Attorney is obliged to notify the victims, if those would like to know, about all the information concerning court procedures and schedule. The representatives of the District Attorney's office are obliged to give victims the opportunity to discuss the case with the prosecuting attorney before the case file is given to the court. The victims are entitled to propose their views on the case representation. The employees of the District Attorney's office are also obliged to secure the waiting area in which victim is located in the course of court proceedings. Prior to representing the case, the representatives of the District Attorney’s office are obliged to provide the victim with the possibility to make a statement and notify the sentencing judge about the influence that this particular crime and the accused have had on the physiological, emotional, or physical state of the victim. The employees of the District Attorney’s office are obliged to notify the victim in writing about the case proceedings during thirty days after the last court or other official event. If the accused decides to appeal the sentence, the employees of the District Attorney’s office are obliged to send to the Attorney General’s office necessary information about the victim and the employees of the Attorney General’s office are obliged to notify the victim about the appellate process (NC Victim Assistance Network, 1996).
Statewide Automated Victim Assistance and Notification, abbreviation is SAVAN, is an anonymous, free, computer-based telecommunicating program that has been created specifically to provide crime victims with such essential services as timely notification and timely correct information. The SAVAN program is constructed to provide the victim with an easy and fast access to the information about the accused with the help of the Internet and specially-designed interface. The SAVAN program is also constructed to alert the victim when custody status of an accused changes. However, the wise thing is not to depend solely on SAVAN, but to stay in constant contact with the District Attorney’s office. Moreover, SAVAN is still a new software product, so it is not accessible in every county of North Carolina (North Carolina: Department of Justice, 2012).
Ensuring that the Victims’ Rights are Enforceable
The enabling legislation has to make certain that victims’ rights are able to be enforced by designing a mechanism of pliability. Even if the victims are defined and authorized by the system and responsibilities and obligation are delegated among the employees of the legislation system, there is no guarantee that victims’ rights are protected. The question arouses whether there is a punishment for the violation of victims’ rights. The cases of violating by fiscal reasons are limited and practically impossible to abuse these rights. However, the formulation of the North Carolina amendment permits the lawmaking some loopholes for abuse. Therefore, search for the protection from violation continues. The injunction power for victims or management offices are two effective protection means. Florida gives the victim the right to send an injunction in the name of the governor in order for the violating agency to comply. However, such an injunction has never been sent. The possibility of filing an injunction is intimidating enough to prevent fraud. In Colorado, special offices have been arranged by the governor of the state to observe the work of agencies and to prevent violations on behalf of crime victims. The employees of the special office are ready to meet with any victim who is going to complain. It occurred that some wishes of the victims were unreasonable. However, this enforcement model works and successfully solves systemic issues and shortcomings identified by victims (National Centers for Juvenile Justice, 2010).
Prosecutors are likely to feel the influence of the amendment more than any other agency because they are required to provide a lot of new services authorized by the amendment, for instance, timely notification about all proceedings, timely and correct information about criminal and court procedures, concluding disposition of the criminal case, opportunity for the victims to consult with a member of the District Attorney’s Office, and opportunity for the victims to make a statement in the court. Other members of the judicial system, clerks, magistrates, and judges are affected only in terms of the court time and extra personnel for generating and distributing notifications. Police officers are the first line of the juridical system that has to inform the crime victims about their rights. Police officers are obliged to collect contact information for the notification. They write down the victim’s information on the day of the incident in their initial report and the victim’s rights process depends on the quality of this information (National Centers for Juvenile Justice, 2010).
Automated victim notification is an inexpensive, yet efficient computer system of the amendment implementation. The system does not require extensive staff and provides enough of means for generating profit in order to compensate for its operating costs. Nevertheless, the notification system needs to be supported. Nowadays, North Carolina is expending VOCA (Victims of Crime Act) funds to provide the victim notification in Wilson and Durham counties through the Crime Commission of the Governor. North Carolina is going to continue utilizing VOCA and VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) funds to provide service providers who directly communicate with victims to fulfill the promises of the amendment. By using grant funding and budgeting support from various sources of the criminal justice system, North Carolina has an opportunity to concentrate its efforts on the long-range state program that is the CJIN (Criminal Justice Information Network) guidance and advisement. This automated justice system will be connected with courts, jails, and prosecutor’s offices through telecommunication lines and give the state a possibility to effectively manage the crime victim’s program without violation, overloads, delays, deviations, misrepresentations, and other issues that occur now because of the understaffed and overloaded juridical system (North Carolina: Department of Justice, 2012).