I ran across this article in the local newspaper, I am glad to see that steps are being taken (no matter how slowly) to afford victims and witnesses the feeling of safety that they so rightly deserve. I don’t know how many times we get calls for service where the caller doesn’t want to give their names or are resistant to get involved for fear of reprocussions. I get upset knowing that I am going to do my very best on some calls that will eventually get torn apart in court because a witness is too fearful to come forward (and some defendant who should rightfully face justice will not) because of the suspects rights which are well secured and fought for by defense counsel. Whereas a victim or witness has virtually no one looking out for them and their rights.
The courthouse that I am usually testafying in is a state of the art building that is woefully understaffed and the people are horribly overworked. I give them credit for doing what they can with what they got. I am not by any means saying I agree with everything they do. But I appreciate their efforts.
I often wonder when I’m there who the nitwit was that designed the place.
- For one, when I worked midnights I would have to transfer the arrestees who had not made bail over to court in the morning and the court holding area has one entrance in (mind you we transport in a large “paddy wagon”) it has a straightaway down the chute with a hard left hand turn at the end where you park and unload your cargo. You then either have to make a 199 point turn or back up the entire length of the chute along with managing the left hand turn before you are back out to street level. Easy solution (when building this taxpayer paid building) would have been an entry ramp and an exit ramp with a secured dropoff area right in the middle. But apparently that type of decision is above my pay scale and I’m not smart enough to make those decisions.
- Everyone, including, defendants, defendants families and friends, victims, victims witnesses and friends, and the cops (we dont have any friends so thats not a problem) ride up in the same elevators or walk up the same stairway and await their court appearance in a large open area outside the courtroom. This is not conducive to justice being served. And can be a hazzardous situation if the officer is not always ready for the worst to happen.
- There parking situation is attrocious, sure the Judges,DA’s, Clerks and other beautiful people have their own “special” free of charge parking spots, but I as a cop have to shell out my own money in order to serve the public and park in a public parking garage usually near some defendants car who has the ability to make note of what I drive and file that info away to possibly harass me or my family. The lowly victims and witnesses also have to park in the public garage as well.
Ok so now that I’m done ranting, here is the article I found……
BOSTON – Defendants have been known to use their cell phone cameras to snap photos of people in courthouses preparing to testify against them.
It is one form of witness intimidation that Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett and others said could be stopped by updating a victims’ bill of rights approved by the Legislature 25 years ago.
“We’ve had plenty of victims feel intimidated,” Blodgett said yesterday. “It’s important to make victims and families comfortable in the courthouse.”
Kevin Burke, the secretary of Public Safety, said lawmakers should provide victims a separate and secure place in courthouses, away from the people they testify against. That, and other measures in a bill before the Legislature he asked lawmakers to pass, would protect victims’ “fundamental right” not to be intimidated.
“It’s important to the victim,” Burke, the former Essex County District Attorney, said at a Statehouse press conference. “The victim doesn’t need to be re-victimized when they visit the courthouse.”
The bill would update the 1984 Victims’ Bill of Rights, which Burke helped write. It also would allow child victims and witnesses to have an adult or family member with them in court to support them when they testify. It would extend the same rights to the disabled.
Family members of victims would be considered victims under the law. And victim impact statements could be made via videotape rather than in the courtroom.
Also, a summary of victims’ rights would have to be conspicuously posted in police stations and courthouses across the state.
Lawrence Police Chief John Romero also backs the bill. Romero said witness intimidation when violent crimes are involved is more common than people think. He said separating victims and witnesses from defendants would make it easier to convince people to testify.
“Many people who witness a crime are afraid to get involved, afraid they’ll be outed,” Romero said. “A bill like this says, ‘There are protections for you.’ There’ll still be people who don’t get involved, but you’ll see more willingness.”
Among the rights enumerated in the 1984 Victims’ Bill of Rights are: The state must tell victims their rights under law. Victims are entitled to make impact statements at sentencing and have the statement included in parole records. Victims also can confer with prosecutors during the course of the trial, and if the defendant requests psychiatric records.
And there’s the right to a “safe and secure” waiting area for victims and witnesses to crime.
But those areas never materialized, Burke said, because the law gave the courts discretion over when they created the facilities. As a result, they became an “afterthought.”
Burke said the victims can’t wait for courts to act.
“There’s a very clear message,” Burke said, “You need a statute to protect victims rights. It’s not going to be done on the basis of good will.”