November-December 2014

A branch of VINE you might not know about

In my travels as TDCAA’s Victim Services Director, I am privileged to visit with victim assistance coordinators (VACs) all across our great state. Recently I found out that VACs might not be utilizing an important resource at our disposal, and I wanted to alert y’all to its existence.
    Many Texas jur-isdictions already point crime victims to Texas VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) so they can be updated on any changes to a defendant’s jail or custody status. And that’s wonderful. But did you know that VINE will also notify crime victims about court events? It requires a second registration—signing up for jail/custody updates doesn’t automatically register a person for court updates too—which may be why some VACs aren’t aware of this helpful tool. And remember that Art. 56.08 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure requires prosecutors to give crime victims notice of any scheduled court proceedings, changes to that schedule, and filings for continuances, so utilizing VINE for this purpose—a tool you probably already appreciate and use—just makes sense.
    As a victim assistance coordinator for nearly 23 years in Wood County, I was constantly searching for ways to keep crime victims up-to-date on what was happening with their court cases. I found that taking a moment to register victims for VINE on the front end of a case saved me much time in the long run—and satisfied our requirement under Art. 56.08(b).
        Here’s how I used to do it (not everyone has to do it my way, but I offer my example in case it’s helpful to anyone else out there): After indictment or filing a new criminal case or during the first contact I made with victims, I asked if they would like to receive notification of any scheduled court proceedings. If they said yes, I offered to register them for VINE courts notification myself. If they agreed, I’d hop on www. and register them right then and there while we were on the phone, being sure to find out if they wanted to be notified by phone, email, text, or all three. (Check out the screen capture and caption on page 10, which walks through the VINELink homepage.) It took only a few minutes of my time, and it ensured that a crime victim was registered and ready to receive updates as s/he requested.
    At the end of the registration process, the VINE system generates a dated confirmation receipt that states, “You have successfully registered,” which I printed and marked with the victim’s name, address, phone number, and email address for future reference. Then I slipped the confirmation receipt in the work product folder of the criminal file so that the prosecutors on the case could see that the victim had been given the opportunity to receive notice of scheduled court proceedings. I told victims that if their addresses or phone numbers ever changed that they should notify our office. And of course, if they ever didn’t understand a court date notification, they could call and I would gladly explain.
    VINE may help your office satisfy Art. 56.08(b), but remember that it will not assist with Art. 56.08(b-1), which has to do with victim notification of the existence and terms of any plea bargain agreement presented to the court. VACs will still need to call or otherwise notify crime victims of plea bargains.
In-office VAC visits
In recent weeks, my TDCAA travels have taken me to Carthage and Sulphur Springs (see a couple of photos, above, of those I visited) to assist VACs with in-office consultations for their prosecutor-based victim services projects. In-office consultations give help to VACs so they may successfully carry out their duties pursuant to Chapter 56 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. Thank each of your offices for allowing TDCAA to offer support to your victim services programs!
    Please email me at Jalayne [email protected] for inquiries or support or to schedule an in-office consultation.

DV Awareness month
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. If your office coordinated activities or public awareness events during this month, please submit photos and a short write-up for publication in our next Prosecutor.