The Illinois State Senate Judiciary Committee will begin hearings on changes to the Rights of Crime Victims and Witnesses Act. This Act is commonly known as the Illinois Crime Victims Bill of Rights. This Act is designed to preserve, protect and enforce the guaranteed rights of Crime Victims throughout the criminal justice process. It requires that victims receive notice of all court dates, requires prosecutors to communicate with victims, and gives victims the right to be consulted when it comes to plea agreements and at sentencing hearings. The changes that will be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee will give crime victims the right to hire an attorney who will represent them during the entire criminal case so as to ensure that their rights are protected and enforced at no charge. The attorney fee will be paid from the Crime Victim Compensation Fund. This Fund was established by the State Legislature to help victims of violent crime and their families to help reduce the financial burden to them. Currently, Crime Victims are allowed to hire their own attorney to represent them in a criminal case. But under current law, the victim has to pay for the attorney out of their own pocket. The new law will provide that the attorney be paid out of this Fund.
There is no doubt that more needs to be done to help crime victims. In my practice, I frequently receive phone calls from people who are victims of crime looking for answers and looking for help. While there’s plenty of resources online for criminal defendants looking for legal representation in criminal cases, there are not enough resources to assist victims of crime. This is especially true for victims of Domestic Violence. Not only do they have to go to court and try to understand how the court proceedings will affect their lives, but many of these victims have to make arrangements to live outside the home. Some of the victims have child care issues, child support issues, child visitation issues, and various other issues having to do with raising their family during the pendency of a Domestic Battery criminal prosecution and afterwards. Many of these cases involve Orders of Protection, Conditions of Bond issues which may affect whether they can have contact with their spouse, and various other issues that go well beyond the criminal proceedings in court. These victims are in desperate need of assistance. Some of these victims have never been on their own before. These people need help and it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to find someone to help you. On top of that, to ask victims to come up with money to hire their own attorney is simply unrealistic. Prosecutors are busy prosecuting cases in court. To ask them to take on the responsibility of basically representing the victim during a criminal prosecution may be asking too much of prosecutors. There is no doubt that victims of crime need and deserve an attorney who will be with them during all the phases of a criminal case. Many victims of crime have never been exposed to the criminal justice system. Some criminal defendants have previously been through the system so they know what is happening and what is going to happen. As with many other things, while this is a good idea, the money may not be there to make this work. The State of Illinois is going through very difficult economic times. If you ask any Illinois resident they will tell you that Illinois is basically broke. There may not be any money to make this work. So while conceptually this legislation makes sense, there may not be enough money around to make this happen. In addition to the financial constraints, the Attorney General’s office is also withholding support for the legislation. Apparently, recent changes to this same Act were made and the Attorney General’s office wants to wait and see how the new changes operate before agreeing to more changes to the Illinois Crime Victims Bill of Rights.
If the measure makes it past the Judiciary Committee, it will go before the House and Senate for a vote.