What is the Victim/Witness Division?
The Victim/Witness Division of the Harris County District Attorney's Office was established in 1977 to provide information, assistance, and support to victims of crime in Harris County. The Code of Criminal Procedure Article 56.04 states that every District Attorney's Office must have a victim assistance coordinator.
The coordinators are liaisons between the victim and the prosecutor handling the case and provide crime victims with information about their rights and the criminal justice system including ongoing information about the status of a case. Coordinators also provide referrals to appropriate social service agencies to assist crime victims in coping with the impact of the crime. The criminal justice system can be confusing and overwhelming to those who are not familiar with it. Therefore the coordinators assigned to this division are committed to helping victims and witnesses through the process by providing them with the help and services necessary to assist their recovery of the criminal act.
What services does the Victim/Witness Division provide?
- Initial Contact: Contact victims by mail as soon as the case is accepted for prosecution.
- Case Status: Provide on-going, up-dated case status information.
- Criminal Justice System Information: Explain court procedures and schedules.
- Crime Victim Compensation Fund: Provide information and assist victims of violent crime in filing applications for benefits.
- Victim Impact Statements: Provide information and assist victims of violent crime in completing a Victim Impact Statement.
- Referrals: Direct victims to community resources and social services.
- Restitution: Collect information on victims' property loss and forward to prosecutors; serve as a conduit for the payment of lump sum restitution to crime victims.
- Court Accompaniment: Accompany victims to court upon their or the prosecutor's request.
- Testing For Sexual Assault Defendants: Coordinate AIDS and other Sexual Transmitted Disease testing for defendants indicted or who waives indictment for Sexual Assault, Aggravated Sexual Assault and Indecency with a Child by contact.
- Transportation Assistance: Provide bus passes to assist in transportation to court.
- Anatomical Dolls and Drawings: Provide dolls and drawings to assist prosecutors in the interview and testimony in child abuse cases.
- Court Orientation Coloring Books: Provide coloring books and crayons for children preparing to testify in court.
Crime Victims' Rights in Texas
Victim means a person who is the victim of an offense of sexual assault, kidnapping, aggravated robbery, or injury to a child, elderly individual, or disabled individual or who has suffered personal injury or death as a result of the criminal conduct of another. A close relative is a spouse, parent, adult brother/sister or adult child of a deceased victim or the guardian of a victim.
As a victim, guardian of a victim, or close relative of a deceased victim you are entitled to the following rights with the criminal justice system:
- The right to receive from law enforcement agencies the adequate protection from harm and threats arising from the cooperation with prosecution efforts;
- The right to have the magistrate take the safety of the victim or his family into consideration as an element in fixing the amount of bail for the accused;
- The right, if requested, to be informed (a) by the attorney representing the state of relevant court proceedings, including appellate proceedings, and to be informed if those court proceedings have been canceled or rescheduled prior to the event; and (b) by an appellate court of decisions of the court, after the decisions are entered but before the decisions are made public;
- The right to be informed, when requested, by a peace officer concerning the defendant’s right to bail and the procedures in criminal investigations and by the district attorney’s office concerning the general procedures in the criminal justice system, including general procedures in guilty plea negotiations and arrangements, restitution, and the appeals and parole process;
- The right to provide pertinent information to a probation department conducting a pre-sentencing investigation concerning the impact of the offense on the victim and his family by testimony, written statements, or any other manner prior to any sentencing of the offender;
- The right to receive information regarding compensation to victims of crime as provided by Subchapter B, Chapter 56, including information related to the costs that may be compensated under that Act and the amount of compensation, eligibility for compensation, and procedures for application for compensation under the Act, the payment for a medical examination under Article 56.06 of this code for a victim of a sexual assault, and when requested, a referral to available social service agencies that may offer additional assistance;
- The right to be informed, upon request, of parole procedures, to participate in the parole process, to be notified, if requested of parole proceedings concerning a defendant in the victim’s case, to provide to the Board of Pardons and Paroles for inclusion in the defendant’s file information to be considered by the board prior to the parole of any defendant convicted of any crime subject to this Act, and to be notified, if requested, of the defendant’s release;
- The right to be provided with a waiting area, separate or secured from other witnesses, including the offender and relatives of the offender, before testifying in any proceeding concerning the offender; if a separate waiting area is not available, other safeguards should be taken to minimize the victim’s contact with the offender and the offender’s relatives and witnesses, before and during court proceedings;
- The right to prompt return of any property of the victim that is held by a law enforcement agency or the attorney for the state as evidence when the property is no longer required for that purpose;
- The right to have the attorney for the state notify the employer of the victim, if requested, of the necessity of the victim’s cooperation and testimony in a proceeding that may necessitate the absence of the victim from work for good cause;
- The right to counseling, on request, regarding acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and testing for AIDS, HIV, antibodies to HIV, or infection with any other probably causative agent of AIDS, if the offense is an offense under Section 21.11 (a) (1), 22.011 or 22.021, Penal Code. (Sexual Assault, Aggravated Sexual Assault, or Indecency with a Child by Contact);
- The right to request victim-offender mediation coordinated by the Victim Services Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice;
- The right to be informed of the uses of a victim impact statement and the statement’s purpose in the criminal justice system, to complete the victim impact statement, and to have the victim impact statement considered: (a) by the attorney representing the state and the judge before sentencing or before a plea bargain agreement is accepted; and (b) by the Board of Pardons and Paroles before an inmate is released on parole; and
- Except as provided by Article 56.06 (a), for a victim of a sexual assault, the right to a forensic medical examination if the sexual assault is reported to a law enforcement agency within 96 hours of the assault.
A victim, guardian of a victim, or a close relative of a deceased victim is entitled to the right to be present at all public court proceedings related to the offense, subject to the approval of the judge in the case.
The office of the attorney representing the state and the sheriff, police and other law enforcement agencies shall ensure to the extent practicable that a victim, guardian of a victim, or a close relative of a deceased victim is afforded the rights granted by Subsection (a) of this article and, on request an explanation of those rights.
A judge, attorney for the state, peace officer, or law enforcement agency is not liable for a failure or inability to provide a right enumerated in this article. The failure or inability of any person to provide a right or service enumerated in this article may not be used by a defendant in a criminal case as a ground for appeal, a ground to set aside the conviction or sentence, or a ground in a habeas corpus petition. A victim, guardian of a victim, or a close relative of a deceased victim does not have standing to participate as a party in a criminal proceeding or to contest the disposition of any charge.
What are the victim's rights to speak after punishment?
Victim's Right to Speak After Punishment Article 42.03 (1) (b), Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, provides victims of violent crime (or the close relative of a deceased victim, or the guardian of a victim) the right to speak in court after punishment has been assessed.
The victim's remarks are limited to the victim's views about the offense, the defendant and the effect of the offense on the victim. Although the victim may address both the court and the defendant, the victim may not ask any questions of the defendant. The court reporter may not transcribe the victim's statement, and the statement may not be made until after the sentence has been pronounced.
For those victims who would like some assistance in preparing their oral statement, we have developed a guideline to help them organize their thoughts.
Guide for Preparation of Victim's Statement to be presented to Court after Sentence has been pronounced. Your remarks are limited to your thoughts about the crime, the defendant and the effect of the crime on you or the victim's family. You may direct your comments to the court (Judge) and the defendant. You may not ask the defendant any questions. The court reporter may not record your statement.
We suggest that you take some time before the sentencing to organize your thoughts. It has been more effective to write down your thoughts than to speak without preparation. Many victims are emotional at the time of sentencing and having an outline of your thoughts can be very helpful.
Date of sentencing:_____________ Court Number:______
- The Crime
- The Defendant
- The effect of the crime on the victim or the victim's family
What should a witness know before appearing in court?
- Always tell the truth. Do not guess or make up an answer. If you are asked about little details which you do not remember, it is best to say " I do not remember".
- Answer all questions directly. Answer only the question that is asked. If you can answer with a "yes" or "no", do so. If you do not understand a question, Feel free to have the question repeated or explained.
- Speak clearly and distinctly. The juror farthest from you should be able to hear you.
- Be Attentive. Remain alert at all times so that you can hear, understand and give a proper response to each question. Avoid trying to "second guess" the questioner. The prosecutor will develop the evidence through your testimony and will object to any improper questioning by the defense during cross examination.
- DO NOT LOSE YOUR TEMPER. Losing your temper during cross examination means losing your credibility. Anger will lessen your recall ability and may cause you to make incorrect statements.
- Dress Conservatively and be Courteous. The jury knows nothing of you except for the impression that you make with your testimony and with you appearance. Wear clothing that will not distract the judge or jury from your testimony.
- Bring family and friends. You will only be present in the courtroom for your testimony and the closing arguments. This is to insure that the testimony of one witness will not influence that of another, and is called "invoking the rule". The support of friends and family is helpful at this time, although they cannot relate to you what happened in the courtroom until after the trial is over. A coordinator from the Victim Witness Program will also accompany you if called at 755-6655. Remember, the Victim Waiting Room offers a separate and secure area in which you may wait for your turn to testify.
- Be aware that the defendant will be in the courtroom at all times and you will be asked to identify him. This is easier to deal with if you prepare beforehand.
- Take a positive attitude with you. It is not a good idea to go into trial with revenge on your mind, as no amount of punishment for the defendant can atone for what you have gone through. By going through the ordeal of testifying you have shown a great deal of courage and concern for others by hopefully preventing this crime from happening to another person.
What is the Crime Victims' Compensation Program?
Crime Victims' Compensation is a division of the Texas Attorney General's Office created to help victims of violent crime in Texas.
The Crime Victims' Compensation Division can be reached at 1-800- 983-9933 or (512) 936-1200.
Victims who suffer bodily injury, emotional harm or death as a result of a violent crime.
- U.S. residents who become victims of crime in Texas and Texas residents who become victims of crime in a state or country without a compensation program.
- Dependents and/or family members of those victims and people who legally or voluntarily assume expenses related to the crime.
- Peace officers, firefighters, and other individuals whose employment includes the duty to protect the public.
What are the costs that might be compensated?
- Reasonable medical, prescription, and rehabilitation expenses.
- Costs associated for medically indicated services needed as a result of the crime.
- Mental health counseling.
- Funeral expenses.
- Loss of earnings or support.
- Child care or dependent care to enable a victim, spouse, surviving spouse of a deceased victim or guardian to continue employment.
- Child care for individuals who are unable to return immediately to work.
- Reasonable attorney fees for legal assistance in filing the application and in obtaining benefits, if the claim is approved.
- Reasonable cost associated with crime scene cleanup.
- Reasonable replacement costs for items such as clothing or bedding taken as evidence or made unusable as a result of the criminal investigation.
- Loss of wages and costs related to travel for participation in or attendance at investigative, prosecutorial, and judicial processes and post-conviction and post adjudication proceedings.
- One time payment for help with relocation expenses and rental assistance for domestic violence victims.
How much compensation could I receive?
- Total recovery may not exceed $50,000 unless the victim suffered total and permanent disability.
- Victims who suffer total and permanent disability as a result of their victimization may qualify for an additional $50,000, which may only be used for certain, costs. After September 1, 2001 they may qualify for up to an additional $75,000.
What are the eligibility requirements?
Reporting the crime
- Cannot knowingly or willingly participate in the crime.
- Cannot share responsibility for the crime.
- Cannot be the offender or an accomplice.
- Cannot be an inmate when the crime occurs.
- Must cooperate fully with the law enforcement and prosecution of the case.
Filing the application
- The victim must have reported the crime to a law enforcement agency within a reasonable period of time that does not impede the investigation and prosecution of the case.
- The victim or claimant must file the claim within 3 years of the date of the crime if the crime occurred after September 1, 1997. Before September 1, 1997 they have 1 year from the date of the crime to file.
- Child victims filing an application have until their 21st birthday to make the claim.
What is the emergency reserve?
Established for victims of mass violence and international terrorism and would be available for providing emergency relief and assistance such as crisis intervention, emergency housing, travel, food or expenses.