If you qualify for the program, you are entitled to the following rights under Louisiana’s Crime Victim Bill of Rights:
– To receive emergency social or medical services as soon as possible – To be notified of a defendant’s arrest, release on recognizance, posting of bond, release pending charges being filed, release due to rejection of charges by the District Attorney, escape, or re-apprehension
– To be interviewed in a private setting and to a secure area during criminal proceedings
– To requests for assistance by judicial and law enforcement agencies in informing employers that the need for cooperation in the prosecution of the case may necessitate absence from work
– To reasonable notice and to be present and heard during all critical stages of pre-conviction and post-conviction proceedings, and the right to be notified of scheduling changes of criminal justice proceedings
– To consult with the prosecution prior to the trial and final disposition of the case – To refuse to be interviewed by the accused or a representative of the accused
– To review and comment upon the pre-sentence report prior to imposition of sentencing, and the right to be notified of the minimum and maximum sentence allowed by law
– To be present at all phases of the court proceedings, including the sentencing hearing
– To make a written or oral impact statement – To seek restitution – To a reasonably prompt conclusion to the case
For a victim or designated family member to be eligible to receive these rights, the victim or family member must complete a “Louisiana Victim Notice and Registration Form” and file it with the law enforcement agency investigating the crime or the District Attorney’s Office. The Victim Assistance Program coordinator can assist you with this, if necessary.
After a crime has been reported, the law enforcement agency conducting the investigation, such as a local Police Department or Sheriff’s Office, is your first point of contact. Once an arrest has been made in the case, the defendant (the person accused of the crime) must appear for an arraignment hearing, where the charges are read and the defendant enters a plea (usually “guilty” or “not guilty’). That process—from the arrest until the case is forwarded to the Victim Assistance Program—usually takes about four to six weeks, but don’t be alarmed if it takes a bit longer.
CONTACT WITH THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY and VICTIM ASSISTANCE COORDINATOR
When the District Attorney’s Office receives the case, a Victim Assistance Program coordinator sends a letter to you to advise that the case has been accepted for prosecution and assigned to an Assistant District Attorney. You will be given the Assistant District Attorney’s name, the court docket number, the first tentative trial date, the name of the Judge who will be hearing the case, and the program’s telephone number. If you are a minor, the program coordinator may be available to accompany you and your parent to the courtroom to help you become familiar with the court procedures and more at ease in the courtroom setting. The coordinator also will explain each step in the judicial process and what financial or community resources may be available.
CRIME VICTIM’S REPARATIONS FUND
Victims who are in need of court-ordered restitution/reparations will be informed of the Crime Victim’s Reparations Fund, which is operated by the Sheriff’s Office in St. Tammany and Washington parishes. The fund can reimburse certain medical bills that are associated with economic loss or injuries from a crime. Also, a trial judge may order restitution as a circumstance of probation. In either case, the program coordinator will assist you in obtaining information on this matter.
Average misdemeanor cases take about six months to complete, but this varies widely. Felony cases on the average take about one year. Capital cases (death penalty cases), such as murder and aggravated rape of a juvenile, take one to three years on average to trial completion, but they sometimes can last even longer. Judges often grant continuances (delays) in cases for a variety of reasons. These continuances often cannot be anticipated, which can be very frustrating to many victims.
Before a sentencing hearing, the Assistant District Attorney will notify the court if you wish to be heard at sentencing via a written or oral statement. This is known as a Victim Impact Statement, and it is a very powerful and important proceeding. If a defendant pleads guilty to the charge, the case is immediately resolved, which relieves the victim and witnesses from testifying in a court trial. If a judge sentences the defendant to probation, the defendant is required to participate in a court-supervised monthly monitoring program set up by the judge. The defendant is required to pay fines and monitoring fees and, as mentioned, may be required to pay restitution to the victim through the Louisiana Department of Corrections’ Office of Probation and Parole.
Once the sentence has been issued, you should contact the Department of Corrections’ Crime Victims Services Bureau at 1-888-342-6110 for information about completing Victim/Witness notification request form. As an individual affected by the criminal acts of another person, you are a legitimate participant in the criminal justice system. Registration with the Department of Corrections’ Victims Services Bureau enables you to receive information regarding the status of the person who committed the crime, as well as notification of any scheduled hearing for parole or pardon.
The form also may be downloaded at www.doc.louisiana.gov . This form should not be confused with registration for the Louisiana Automated Victim Notification System (LAVNS), a free on-line service that allows anyone to search for information regarding an offender’s current custody and case status in a parish facility. LAVNS is a useful service that also can provide automated notification when an offender is released, transferred, or escapes from a parish facility or has a change in case status. To register, call 866.528.6748 or visit www.LAVNS.org. Registering locally with LAVNS is NOT the same as registering with the state’s Crime Victims Services Bureau. Currently, one must register with the Department of Corrections’ Crime Victims Services Bureau in order to receive notice of a state inmate’s projected release dates, actual release, and other key events in an offender’s movement through the justice system.
“Why hasn’t the Victim Assistance Program contacted me?”
The most likely answer is that your case hasn’t made it to the program yet. Your first point of contact is the law enforcement agency that is conducting the investigation. The Victim Assistance Program won’t receive your case until after the person arrested in the case enters a plea during an arraignment hearing. That process usually takes four to six weeks but can be longer.
“Are the services offered through this program available to ALL victims?”
The services provided by this program are offered to a broad range of victims, as outlined by state law. To qualify for these statutory rights, you or your family members must be a victim of a homicide, felony crime of violence, sexual offense, certain vehicular related offenses, domestic violence, or attempts to commit any of these offenses. For a complete list of the crimes whose victims are covered under this statute, click here.
“How do I find out when the person who committed a crime against me will be released from prison?”
You should contact the Department of Corrections’ Crime Victims Services Bureau at 1-888-342-6110 to register to receive information regarding the status of the person who committed the crime, as well as notification of any scheduled hearing for parole or pardon. The form also may be downloaded at www.doc.louisiana.gov . You also may register with the Louisiana Automated Victim Notification System (LAVNS), a free on-line service that allows anyone to search for information regarding an offender’s current custody and case status. LAVNS also can provide automated notification when an offender is released, transferred, or escapes from a parish facility or has a change in case status. To register, call 866.528.6748 or visit www.LAVNS.org. But LAVNS does not replace registration for the Department of Corrections’ notification process. They are separate programs, and you should register for each one.
“Can I give my opinion before the District Attorney’s Office offers a plea deal to the person who committed a crime against me?”
Yes, if you are a victim of certain crimes, you have a right under Louisiana’s Crime Victim Bill of Rights to consult with the prosecution before the trial and final disposition of your case. The Victim Assistance program coordinator will guide you through this process.
“Can I be considered a victim of domestic violence if I’m not married to the person who is hurting me?”
Domestic Violence is a violent confrontation in the home between family members. The incident(s) can be between two people in a relationship who live together, a woman and the father of her children, a father and daughter, mother and son, or an adult child and an elderly parent. Most often, though, domestic violence occurs between a man and a woman living together, married or not. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the woman is the victim. Sometimes weapons are used, and sometimes property is damaged, but most often, the confrontation involves the use of force by either a male or female abuser.
“Will I have to hire an attorney?”
No. You are a victim, and so you do not have to hire an attorney. When the crime was committed against you, the person who committed the crime also violated the laws of Louisiana. The District Attorney’s Office prosecutes the criminal on behalf of the people of Louisiana, and that includes you and your interests.
“What should I do if I was raped?”
The first thing you should do is contact your local law enforcement agency right away. Write down as many details about the incident as possible so that you can report it to the responding officer. Do not take a shower or bath. Do not douche. Do not disturb anything in the area where the rape occurred. Do not change your clothes. Even though you will feel violated and want to do all you can to erase the memory of the event, doing so may unintentionally destroy valuable evidence that the police and prosecutor may need to arrest and prosecute the person who hurt you.
“Is there any kind of emergency assistance available to me to help with the expenses I have incurred as a result of the crime committed against me?”
You may qualify to receive assistance through the Crime Victim’s Reparations Fund, which is operated by the Sheriff’s Office in St. Tammany and Washington parishes. The fund can reimburse certain medical bills that are associated with economic loss or injuries from a crime. Also, a trial judge may order restitution as a circumstance of probation. Contact your local Sheriff’s Office to find out more about the fund and whether you qualify for assistance.
“What will happen to me during trial?”
You will likely be a witness for the state (represented by the District Attorney). As such, you play a very important role in the trial. The prosecutor may ask you questions about yourself and about the crime. The attorney for the person who committed a crime against you may cross-examine you (ask you more questions based on your testimony). You may feel during the questioning that your personal motives are doubted, but the process of cross-examination is not meant as a personal attack against you. It is to ensure that all sides of the case are told, and to establish the truth. If you are concerned about what will happen, contact the Victim Assistance Program coordinator.
“What should I expect to happen during the trial?”
An Assistant District Attorney usually presents the case for the state and tries to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the person accused of the crime (the defendant) did actually commit it. The accused may present his/her side through the use of an attorney. It is the defendant’s choice whether the judge or a 12-person jury (or 6 person jury) is deciding the verdict.
“The person who committed a crime against me was ordered to pay restitution as a condition of probation. Will I get it in a lump sum or monthly payments, and what will happen if he doesn’t pay?”
Those who have to pay restitution as a condition of probation usually make monthly payments, set by the court. The court has ordered restitution as a condition of probation, and failure to pay may result in a violation and possible jail time.
Crime Victims Services Bureau 888-342-6110 www.doc.louisiana.gov
Louisiana Automated Victim Notification System (LAVNS) 866.528.6748www.LAVNS.org
It Happened To Alexa Foundation (rape victims) (716) 754-9105 877-77-ALEXA (Ext. 25392) www.ithappenedtoalexa.org
Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault 888-995-7273 (hotline) 985-345-5995 www.lafasa.org
Metropolitan Center for Women and Children 888-411-1333 (hotline) 504-837-5400 www.mcwcgno.org
Safe Harbor (domestic violence victims) 985-626-5740 888-411-1333 (hotline) www.safeharbornorthshore.org
MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) 877.MAD.HELP www.madd.org
Southeast Louisiana Legal Services 800-891-0076 985-893-0076 www.slls.org
This agency does not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or age in the delivery of services and employment practices. If participants or beneficiaries want to file a complaint alleging discrimination, please contact the District Attorney’s Office by email DAMontgomery@22da.com.