Addressing the Legal Needs of Crime Victims
Jessica Alas, Meg Garvin  -  2015/8/12
http://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ovcproviderforum
 
 
How can we get a list of local attorneys who are interested n helping crime victims through civil litigation? Could we ask the local bar association to survey their membership and then print up a brochure based on the response?
 
1.  Lindsey A
 One option may be to see if you have a state coalition that has a list of services for legal aid.
 
2.  Meg Garvin
 Part 2: While you are looking for civil lawyers, I encourage everyone who works with victims to help ensure victims have an independent lawyer protecting their rights in the criminal case. Victims have the right to have a lawyer (the prosecutor represents the state not the victim) and those lawyers can file motions to protect victims' rights. To learn more check out NCVLI's QuickTool videos, including the one about victims' rights attorneys. http://law.lclark.edu/centers/national_crime_victim_law_institute/about_ncvli/know_your_rights.php.
 
3.  Meg Garvin
 Part 1: Any list will depend upon what civil issues are at stake - e.g., divorce/custody vs. a tort vs. protective order, your local bar association may be able to provide a list but knowing specifics will help. Here are a few additional options: 1) National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) has a bar association of lawyers who help victims with civil issues - mostly tort; 2) my organization, the National Crime Victim Law Institute (www.ncvli.org) has a bar association of lawyers (NAVRA) who help victims navigate criminal process and also help with civil matters; 3) your local Legal Aid can often identify resources; 4) OVC's funded legal networks can guide victims in thier jurisdictions.
 
4.  J. Alas
 If you are a victim seeking legal services, I would suggest doing a little research about the services available in your area. There may be more than one organization in your area operating a legal pro bono program. If you are working with a victimís advocate or a counselor, I would suggest discussing your needs with them because they may be able to refer you to resources in the community or reach out to a local organization which may be able to help place your legal issue with a volunteer attorney.
 
5.  J. Alas
 It is unlikely that your bar association will give you a list of attorneys upon request. If you are a victim service provider trying to help clients obtain legal assistance, I suggest starting with a call to your local bar association and non-profit legal services providers to find out if they have pro bono programs. Many local and specialty bar associations and non-profit legal service providers have established pro bono legal programs and provide free legal assistance to community members. In the short term, you can find out how crime victims can apply for assistance. In the long term, you may make contacts that can be built into collaborations over time which may allow you to help expedite referrals for crime victim clients to receive pro bono legal assistance.
 
 
If a victim feels that their victims rights have been violated, what mechanisms exists to report these violations. It seems very few states have a formal, easy-to-find reporting mechanism.
 
1.  Meg Garvin
 Part 3: If the violation occurred after a criminal case is over or the proceeding that is at issue cannot be "undone", some states (e.g., Colorado and Wisconsin) and the federal government have victims' rights compliance processes. These processes allow victims to file complaints with offices or ombudspersons. Those offices investigate and can take actions ranging from reprimand to training. This process is known as "Rights Compliance" and helps improve systems moving forward.
 
2.  MCVRC
 Maryland's Office of Crime Control and Prevention has an ombudsman. Do other states have something similar?
 
3.  J. Alas
 The best defense against having your rights violated as a crime victim is to have an attorney representative to assist in asserting those rights within the criminal justice system. Some states have better procedures for handling complaints than others and I would refer you to you stateís attorney generalís office. If it is a federal case, you can file a complaint with the Department of Justice via http://www.justice.gov/usao/resources/crime-victims-rights-ombudsman/filing-complaint.
 
4.  Meg Garvin
 Part 2: If the violation of rights occurred (or is occurring) during an active criminal case then securing an attorney for the victim to file motions with the court seeking to undo violative actions and do proceedings over again is an option in most jurisdictions. This is known as "Rights Enforcement". If the trial court fails to afford the remedy, appellate review of violations is sadly not available in all jurisdictions (although many are moving that way to align with jurisdictions like Arizona, California, Oregon and the federal.) Determining the scope of a remedy in these situations requires consultation and is what NCVLI does so please submit a TA request to www.ncvli.org.
 
5.  Meg Garvin
 Part 1: There are a number of parts to the answer to the question. Two key starting points are to know 1) when the violation occurred (as that will help identify what remedies are available) and 2) what the victim wants (e.g., to have the right still afforded through a do-over of a proceeding vs. improve compliance moving forward).
 
 
How do we address juvenile victims and their righ to have represenation in court when their parents are the offender?
 
1.  MG
 Another resource to keep in mind in this type of situation may be to have an advocate present. While advocates cannot give legal representation they can help a victim navigate the system and provided needed support.
 
2.  Lindsey A
 You should be able to request a Guardian Ad Litem for the minor.
 
3.  Meg Garvin
 Whether it is a juvenile, an incapacitated person, or an elderly victim - the representative tasked with protecting their rights that must not be (or be aligned with) the offender. In these situations a motion to the court for appointment of a guardian ad litem (GAL) can occur. Notably, a GAL represents the "best interests" of a child not the child's interests. Consequently, securing an independent lawyer for the child is also advisable. Children can have an attorney client relationship with a lawyer in most situations and this ensures their voice is truly heard. NCVLI's Law Library online has an entire section dedicated to how to protect child-victims' rights. Go to www.ncvli.org and find the Law Library under "Professional Resources."
 
 
how to help with a u vISA
 
1.  J. Alas
 There are many organizations across the county working with immigrant crime victims seeking immigration relief through a U-Visa as well as T-Visa for human trafficking victims or VAWA Self-Petitions for victims of domestic violence. Many legal aid offices across the country assist victimís seeking immigration relief, you can find your local legal aid provider at http://www.lsc.gov/. Many communities also have legal services available through local chapters of organizations like Catholic Charities, bar associations, and law school clinics.
 
2.  Meg Garvin
 I would encourage you to contact your local immigration lawyers association - likely a chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) to find an immigration attorney.
 
 
How do we best assist clients with severe mental or physical disabilities when they are over the age of consent, but their parents are fighting through the legal system over what is best for them?
 
1.  J. Alas
 Many adult clients with severe mental and physical disabilities will have court appointed guardians to handle their affairs including legal decisions. In these instances, attorneys can work with guardians to protect the victimís rights. However, there are many adults with severe disabilities who, with some assistance, can understand their rights and communicate their wishes to be active participants on their own behalf. It is often the role of the attorney to ensure that well-meaning parents, who are not legal guardians, do not overstep into the attorney-client relationship.
 
 
How do we as Victim Advocates make sure that all of victims' rights get enforced throughout the court process?
 
1.  J. Alas
 Often victims are informed of these rights immediately following victimization when victims are at their most vulnerable and unable to comprehend the information. Advocates are a wonderful resource for victims and can help educate victims about the existence of victim rights. Advocates can also build relationships with legal service providers in their communities to maintain a referral resource for clients who need legal assistance. These relationships can also benefit from cross-training events with advocates to learn ways to better identify legal issues that arise for crime victims and where advocates can turn for help when working with clients
 
2.  Meg Garvin
 As Jessica noted in response to another post, the best way to protect victims' rights is to ensure victims have a lawyer. While victim attorneys and victim advocates can and should work together to support victims, having legal counsel is truly the best way to protect rights. Assuming however there is no lawyer - ensuring advocates are aware of and truly educated about the full scope of a victim's rights and remedies is critical.
 
 
Any recommendations on how do we get restitution orders enforced?
 
1.  Meg Garvin
 For some key tips and practice tools to help protect victims' rights, including restitution, check out NCVLI's online Rights Enforcement Toolkit - www.tinyurl.com/ncvlitoolkit.
 
2.  Meg Garvin
 Sadly this question cuts to the heart of a fundamental challenge victims face to not being the ones to pay for their own victimization. A few thoughts: 1) many jurisdictions have laws that automatically reduce restitution orders to be civilly collectible; 2) ensuring that parole/probation do not relese offenders from supervision while restitution is pending; 3) ensuring that the law in each jurisdiction allows for payment intercepts of things like tax refunds and lottery winnings is a legislative part of the solution; and 4) looking at the front end at the scope of permissible asset seizure, freezing and forfeiture.
 
 
If a suspect has not yet been arrested, can a victim still be considered for a U Visa?
 
1.  Meg Garvin
 I am not an immigration attorney and so my response to this question comes from being trained by experts; I encourage you to reach out to immigration experts in your jurisdiction to confirm. That said victims should still be eligible. Generally, the requirements for visas involve the type of victimization and then cooperation with law enforcement - not conviction. Of course a key to securing a visa is securing a certification (generally from law enforcement/prosecution) and all too often those offices do not want to certify a victim pending the conclusion of a criminal case.
 
 
State prosecutors assert they are victim attorneys, is there a state that guarantees victims the right to a victim rights attorney?
 
1.  Meg Garvin
 It is widely recognized in law that a prosecutor is not (and for ethical reasons) cannot be the victim's attorney. As you note, however, this line is not always clear in practice because victims rely on prosecutors and in many states prosecutors have standing to assert victims' rights. No state guarantees victims the right to paid for counsel but many states explicitly recognize the right of victims to have independent counsel in a criminal case. Among these are California, Oregon, Arizona, Illinois and of course the federal system.
 
 
Are there any states that offer all-in-one programs that offer legal assistance for victims for all their needs? I often find that housing issues, restraining orders, debt collections, etc. coincide with various types of victimization. How do we help a victim with ALL their needs?
 
1.  J. Alas
 As Meg mentioned the Office for Victims of Crime is funding these crime victim legal assistance network in several states across the county. I am fortunate enough to be working on one of these networks in Texas. Victims often have a wide array of legal issues following victimization. However, there are very few legal service providers who can address each need in isolation. The idea is to create a network of diverse legal service providers who can collectively evaluate and address the full range of legal needs. We will work together to fill each others service gaps placing the victim at the center instead of the agency. Many state and national funders are making funding contingent upon collaboration. I hope this trend continues as it will lead to better options for victims.
 
2.  Meg Garvin
 Pursuant to Vision 21, in 2012 and again in 2014 OVC funded wrap around legal networks which are working to create seamless delivery of holistic legal services to victims. These Networks are not designed to be one stop shops in terms of all lawyers under one roof but instead are designed to ensure that victims have easily navigable access to lawyers who can help with any legal need they may have. OVC has funded these Networks in a variety of jurisdictions including - Alaska, Illinois, Montana, Washington DC, Los Angeles, New York and more. Hopefully funds for this effort will continue and in the future every state will truly have accessible, holistic legal servies.
 
 
Is there a certification program for victim rights trainers? People claim to train about victim rights, but the level of understanding varies dramatically.
 
1.  J. Alas
 Here is Texas, the Department of Criminal Justice offers free on-line trainings for victim service professionals that gives a good foundation in areas like victimís rights, safety planning, ethics, etc. Please see https://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/php/tvatonline/. OVC TTAC also offers similar training modules at the federal level. Check with your local state agency to see if they offer similar on-line or periodic trainings.
 
 
There is a vast difference between providing "legal advocacy" and "legal advice." Do you have any quick tips for distinguishing between the two? When working with victim advocates (both volunteer and employed staff), I've seen the line become dangerously blurred.
 
1.  MCVRC
 I have insisted that our advocates reference the statute and give general policy, but otherwise call on staff attorneys for specific cases.
 
2.  Meg Garvin
 NCVLI trains on the difference between these two through trainings on "Unlawful Practice of Law." You can request a training at www.ncvli.org under professional resources - we can do a webinar that covers the basics. In the meantime a key point is to have advocates avoid applying the law (or one's expertise about law) to a specific set of facts as this is when one crosses in to legal advice.
 
 
Any tips on working with State VOCA administrators to provide more funding for legal services for victims and especially for a more expanded view of legal services that might include filing U-Visas or other visas?
 
1.  Meg Garvin
 At this August's VOCA administrators conference there will be a session on holistic legal services for victims that I am priviileged to be a part of along with colleagues from OVC and two of the Wraparound Legal Networks funded by OVC. At this presentation (as is true of every presentation NCVLI gives) the conversation will include not only a discussion of permissibility of funding legal services but the desirability in terms of positive outcomes that flow from provision of legal services for victims, communties and the system itself. I am happy to share NCVLI's resources on these points.
 
Return to Discussion