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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Victim’s rights issues move to forefront in bureaucracy

Amy Reyes, victim assistance coordinator for Tarrant County, meets with a crime victim to help the individual prepare for trial and facing the accused.  Photo by Johnathan Deaton-Lee/The Collegian
Amy Reyes, victim assistance coordinator for Tarrant County, meets with a crime victim to help the individual prepare for trial and facing the accused. Photo by Johnathan Deaton-Lee/The Collegian

By Keisha McDuffie/ne news editor

(Part one of four-part series on victims’ rights)

Amy Reyes, victim assistance coordinator for Tarrant County, meets with a crime victim to help the individual prepare for trial and facing the accused.  Photo by Johnathan Deaton-Lee/The Collegian
Amy Reyes, victim assistance coordinator for Tarrant County, meets with a crime victim to help the individual prepare for trial and facing the accused. Photo by Johnathan Deaton-Lee/The Collegian

“ You have the right” is familiar to most anyone over the age of 14 whether it is recognized from a cop and robber movie or from personal experience.

Those four words are the beginning of the Miranda Rights, which is read to a suspect who is arrested although the individual is innocent until proved guilty in a court of law.

No matter how petty or heinous the crime, anyone arrested in the United States is read his rights from the moment the handcuffs are pulled from the officer’s belt.

On the contrary, one segment of society has not always been made aware of its rights: the victims of aggravated and sexually motivated assault crimes and their families.

Victim’s Compensation Act
According to mgcrimevictims.org, California was the first state to establish a crime victim compensation program in 1965.

The Victim’s Compensation Act reimburses qualified crime victims for funeral, medical and some travel expenses, as well as lost wages, counseling and loss of support. In Texas, the attorney general administers the funding.

The site also noted that in 1975 the National Organization for Victim Assistance was founded to expand the services available and the rights of victims. 

The victim impact statement is made by the victims or victims’ families to explain the events of the crime from their point of view. Victims can give examples of how they have been affected by the crime emotionally and physically and describe how it has changed their lives. The statement is viewed by prosecutors, but is not considered by a jury. Judges are given the statement before imposing a sentence or plea bargain.

The Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office formally established the Victim Assistance Program in 1984.

Tim Curry, Tarrant County’s criminal district attorney, said on his Web site his office has been able to prosecute those who prey on law-abiding citizens because of the increased funding approved by the
Tarrant County commissioners court.

Victim’s Rights Advocates
Amy Reyes, victim assistance coordinator for Tarrant County, works with victims that the district attorney’s office assists. Services are available to victims of sexual assault, aggravated robbery, kidnapping or cases involving serious bodily injury, as well as to the relatives of murder victims.

“ Back in the old days, victims came to the courthouse, made a statement and went home unaware of the legal process,” Reyes said. “In the mid ’80s, things started changing around the time MADD and The Women’s Center were beginning. Victims demanded they be heard, and rightfully so.”

Reyes said when a crime occurs, the victim assistance program steps in once a suspect is in custody.

“ Once an arrest has been made, the case is filed with the district attorney’s office and assigned to the appropriate court,” she said. “It is also through the intake process the case is assigned a victim assistance coordinator.”

The coordinator, in turn, notifies the victims by mail of all cases filed and referrals to community agencies and includes a victim impact statement form.

“ We like to keep an open line of communication with our victims,” she said. “We’re not just here to hold hands; we’re here to help.”

Coordinators maintain contact with the victims by providing docket dates, jail status and disposition information. And they inform victims of the courtroom procedures and policies.

A coordinator also accompanies the victim to court when needed.

Survivors Assistance
When interviewed, Reyes was waiting with a mother and father whose son was murdered while working at a Fort Worth convenience store.

Courts have a designated area for the victims and their family or, as in this case, the survivors of a victim.

The room has cable TV, plenty of comfortable seating, playing cards and whatever else the victim and family might need for comfort.

When the phone rang on her desk, Reyes simply said, “Great. Thank you.” Then she turned and said, “We have a verdict!”

The mother and father, accompanied by Reyes and Laura Flores, another coordinator, moved down the hall into the elevator and then into the back of the courtroom.

Talking, boisterous reactions especially tears or loud weeping in the courtroom are not allowed. Both the parents of the accused and of the victim sat in silence as Judge George Gallagher read the jury’s verdict and confirmed the outcome once again with the jury before reading it out loud.

The jury convicted the young man and sentenced him to life in prison for capital murder without chance of parole.

After the verdict, the offender’s mother and grandmother approached the victim’s parents and apologized for their loss. The women said both they and the young man’s parents had lost a son and they were truly sorry.

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