The history of crime victims’ rights

Suzanne McDaniel

TDCAA Victim Services Director in Austin

An important part of the observance of Crime Victims’ Rights Week is the review and history of victim rights. The history of victim rights is also integral to training, understanding the development of the statutes in Texas, and most importantly implementation. (See the last issue of this journal for entries up to 1980.)

    We are continuing our update of the victim rights timeline and ask for your input:

1982    President Ronald Reagan established the President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime with Lois Haight Harrington as chair. The Harris County District Attorney’s Victim Witness Office coordinated the Houston hearing, one of seven in the nation. Congressman, former judge, and Harris County ADA (at the time) Ted Poe provided testimony.

    The final report, issued in December, made 68 recommendations, among them that Congress enact legislation to provide federal funding to assist state compensation programs, a federal resource office, and funding to assist in the operation of federal, state, local, and private/nonprofit victim assistance agencies that provide comprehensive services. The task force’s report was the impetus for the United States Congress’s passage of the Federal Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982, designed to change the status of a crime victim from a person who merely identifies the perpetrator and testifies in court to the role of an active participant in the criminal justice process. Victims are allowed to provide impact statements to the court describing their experiences and costs of being a crime victim and guaranteeing the right to claim restitution.

1983    The Texas Crime Victim Clearinghouse was established in Governor Mark White’s office with approval of a Criminal Justice Division grant submitted by Suzanne McDaniel. The clearinghouse serves as a central source of information about services and issues involving crime victims in Texas.

    U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese appointed the Task Force on Family Violence. Bexar County Criminal District Attorney Sam Millsap and ADA Denise Martinez provided testimony at the San Antonio public hearing in 1984.

1984     The United States Congress enacted the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), which created a matching grant program to encourage states to create victim compensation programs and local programs to assist crime victims. Congress also passed the Fair Standards for the Treatment of Crime Victims and Witnesses Act and created the Office for Victims of Crime, all legislation recommended by the 1982 President Task Force on Crime Victims.

1985    The 69th Texas Legislature passed H.B. 235, adding Chapter 56 (Rights of Crime Victims) to the Code of Criminal Procedure. It included Art. 56.04 (Victim Assistance Coordinator), requiring district attorneys whose jurisdiction has a population of 150,000 or more to designate a person as a victim assistance coordinator.

    The rights provided by Art. 56.02(a) for a victim, guardian of a victim, or close relative of a deceased victim include:

    1) the right to receive from law enforcement agencies adequate protection from harm and threats of harm arising from cooperation with prosecution efforts;
    2) the right to have the magistrate take the safety of the victim or the victim’s family into consideration as an element in fixing the amount of bail for the accused;
    3) the right, if requested, to be informed of relevant court proceedings and to be informed if those court proceedings have been canceled or rescheduled prior to the event;
    4) the right to be informed, when requested, by a peace officer concerning the procedures in criminal investigations and by the district attorney’s office concerning the general procedures in the criminal justice process, including guilty plea negotiations;
    5) the right to provide pertinent information to a probation department conducting a pre-sentencing investigation concerning the impact of the offense on the victim and the victim’s family by testimony, written statement, or any other manner prior to any sentencing of the offender;
    6) the right to receive information regarding compensation to victims of crime, the payment of medical expenses for a victim of sexual assault and, when requested, to referral to available social service agencies that may offer additional assistance; and
    7) the right to be notified, if requested, of parole proceedings and to provide to the Board of Pardons and Paroles for inclusion in the defendant’s file information to be considered by the board prior to the defendant’s parole. In addition, Art. 56.02(b) provides that a victim is entitled to the right to be present at all public court proceedings related to the offense, subject to the approval of the judge in the case.

    The 71st Texas Legislature passed H.J.R. 19 proposing a constitutional amendment to Article I of the Texas Constitution by adding §30, that a crime victim has the right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy throughout the criminal justice process. In addition, on request, the crime victim has the right to: notification of court proceedings; be present at all public court proceedings related to the offense unless the victim is to testify and the court determines that the victim’s testimony would be materially affected if the victim hears other testimony at the trial; confer with a representative of the prosecutor’s office; restitution; and information about the conviction, sentence, imprisonment, and release of the accused. Texas voters approved the amendment on November 7.

1993    The Texas Legislature passed H.J.R. 23 proposing a constitutional amendment to deny bail, after a hearing, to any person accused of a violent offense (murder or aggravated assault, kidnapping, or robbery) or sexual offense (aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, or indecency with a child) committed while under supervision of a criminal justice agency of the state or a political subdivision of the state for a prior felony. Texas voters approved the amendment on November 2.

    The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed by the United States Congress. It dramatically improved the law enforcement response to violence against women and made many more services available to victims of sexual assault.

    Children’s Advocacy Centers of Texas, Inc. (CACTX) was founded as a nonprofit membership association with a charter membership of 13 local children’s advocacy centers. The mission of CACTX is to restore the lives of abused children by supporting children’s centers in partnership with local communities and agencies investigating and prosecuting child abuse.

1995    In January, the Texas Board of Criminal Justice adopted a board rule permitting victim witnesses to view executions. At the time, viewing was limited to immediate family members and individuals with a close relationship to the deceased victim. In 1998, the rules were relaxed to allow victim witnesses to include friends of surviving relatives. By 2005, victim witnesses also encompassed close friends who were supportive during the trauma of the trial, law enforcement personnel involved in the capture of the offender, and prosecutors who tried the case.

    The Texas Crime Victim Clearinghouse was moved administratively from the Governor’s Office to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

    The AMBER Alert System began in Texas when Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters teamed with local police to develop an early warning system to help find abducted children. AMBER stands for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. The name was created as a legacy to 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped while riding her bicycle in Arlington and then brutally murdered.

1997    The 75th Texas Legislature passed S.J.R. 33 proposing a constitutional amendment to permanently dedicate the crime victim compensation fund to be used only for assisting victims of crime. A constitutional dedication of the fund would protect the monies from any attempts to statutorily remove the dedication temporarily or permanently to spend the monies for purposes not related to the Crime Victims’ Compensation Act. Texas voters approved it on November 4.

    H.B. 921 amended Art. 12.01(1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, by providing a limitations period of 10 years from the 18th birthday of a victim of indecency with a child under §21.11(a)(1) of the Penal Code (had been 10 years from the date of the offense), sexual assault under §22.011(a)(2) of the Penal Code (had been 10 years from the date of the offense), and aggravated sexual assault under §22.021(a)(1)(B) of the Penal Code (had been five years from the date of the offense).

2000    The U.S. Congress re-authorized VAWA, adding services for rural, older, and immigrant women, as well as those with disabilities.

2001    The 77th Texas Legislature passed H.B. 1572, which authorized the Office of the Texas Attorney General to contract with the Office of Court Administration and/or the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to implement a statewide computer network victim notification system to victims of crime and counties in Texas. Texas VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) is a single entry point (one toll-free statewide number) for victims to receive standard information and notification on offender status and court events. The Office of Attorney General reimburses participating counties for approved expenses via grant contracts.

    H.B. 656 amended Art. 12.01(1), Code of Criminal Procedure, by adding subsection (B) that there is no limitation period for a sexual assault offense if, during the investigation of the offense, biological matter is collected and subjected to forensic DNA testing and the testing shows that the matter does not match the victim or any other person whose identity is readily ascertained.

2004     Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott convened a group of victim advocates called the Crime Victim Services Advisory Council to evaluate the financial soundness and continued viability of the Compensation to Victims of Crime Fund. In the 2000–01 biennium, the Texas Legislature appropriated $13 million from the fund and $114 million for the 2004–05 biennium. Unless something was done, the fund was likely to be insolvent in three years. General Abbott submits the council’s 12 recommendations—aimed at protecting the fund—to Governor Rick Perry, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, and House Speaker Tom Craddick.

2005    The Texas Legislature passed S.J.R. 17 proposing a constitutional amendment that any person accused of a felony who is released on bail pending trial and whose bail is subsequently revoked or forfeited for a violation of a condition of release may be denied bail pending trial if it is determined that the person violated a condition of release related to the safety of a victim of the alleged offense or to the safety of the community. Texas voters approve the constitutional amendment on November 8.

    The 80th Texas Legislature passed H.B. 8 (“the Jessica Lunsford Act”). The law: 
    1) added the death penalty or life without parole for a repeat conviction for the aggravated sexual assault of a child victim younger than 6 or a child victim younger than 14 and the defendant causes serious bodily injury, threatens death, or uses or exhibits a deadly weapon;
    2) provided for a mandatory minimum punishment range of 25 to 99 years (no early release) for “super aggravated” sexual assault of a child (described above);
    3) created the new offense of continuous sexual abuse of a young child or children which involves two or more acts of sexual abuse against one or more child victims under age 14 over a period of at least 30 days with a mandatory minimum punishment range of 25 to 99 years (no early release);
    4) eliminated the statute of limitations for indecency with a child by contact or exposure, sexual assault of a child, aggravated sexual assault of a child, and continuous sexual abuse of a young child or children;
    5) extended the statute of limitations to 20 years after the 18th birthday for a child victim of sexual performance by a child, aggravated kidnapping with intent to violate or abuse sexually, and burglary of a habitation with intent to commit certain sexual offenses; and
    6) eliminated probation from a jury for sexual performance by a child and the following offenses where the victim is less than 14 years of age: indecency with a child by contact, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, and aggravated kidnapping with intent to abuse the victim sexually.

    We as victim advocates continue to add to this list, so please send your suggestions to [email protected]

Crime Victim Rights Week 2012

How did your community observe this year’s Crime Victims’ Right Week? Please send articles and photos to me at [email protected] so that we can share with others. Every person who sends an article or photos will receive a free TDCAA tee shirt! These are limited edition and not available for sale anywhere, so you’ll be a fashion maverick in one of these.

Domestic Violence ­Seminar

About 160 people attended our Domestic Violence Seminar in April, and attendees were among the most diverse in recent memory—a good mix of prosecutors, investigators, key personnel, and victim assistance coordinators (VACs) traveled to San Antonio to learn how to fight this type of (all too common) crime.

    Did you attend? Did you learn a lot? Please email me at mcdaniel @tdcaa.com with the best tip you came away with; everyone who emails will receive a free TDCAA tee shirt! (How’s that for incentive?)