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.
- Mandatory Testing: Coordinate AIDS and other Sexual Transmitted Disease testing requests from first responders.
- U Visa Certification Request: Handle requests for I-918, Supplement B, U Nonimmigrant Status Certification.
- 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:
Texas Code of Criminal Procedure
Article 56.01 - Definitions
(1) “Close relative of a deceased victim” means a person who was the spouse of a deceased victim at the time of the victim’s death or who is a parent or adult brother, sister, or child of the deceased victim.
(2) “Guardian of victim” means a person who is the legal guardian of the victim, whether or not the legal relationship between the guardian and victim exists because of the age of the victim or the physical or mental incompetency of the victim.
(2-a) “Sexual assault” means an offense under Section 21.02, 21.11(a)(1), 22.011, or 22.021, Penal Code.
(3) “Victim” means a person who is the victim of the offense of sexual assault, kidnapping, aggravated robbery, trafficking of persons, 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.
Article 56.02 - Crime Victims’ Rights
(a) A victim, guardian of a victim, or close relative of a deceased victim is entitled to the following rights within the criminal justice system:
- the right to receive from law enforcement agencies adequate protection from harm and threats of harm arising from 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 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 presentencing investigation concerning the impact of the offense on the victim and his family by testimony, written statement, 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, including information related to the costs that may be compensated under that subchapter and the amount of compensation, eligibility for compensation, and procedures for application for compensation under that subchapter, the payment for a medical examination under Article 56.06 for a victim of a sexual assault, and when requested, to 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 subchapter, and to be notified, if requested, of the defendant’s release;
- the right to be provided with a waiting area, separate or secure 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 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;
- for a victim of an assault or sexual assault who is younger than 17 years of age or whose case involves family violence, as defined by Section 71.004, Family Code, the right to have the court consider the impact on the victim of a continuance requested by the defendant; if requested by the attorney representing the state or by counsel for the defendant, the court shall state on the record the reason for granting or denying the continuance; and
- if the offense is a capital felony, the right to:
A) receive by mail from the court a written explanation of defense-initiated victim outreach if the court has authorized expenditures for a defense-initiated victim outreach specialist;
B) not be contacted by the victim outreach specialist unless the victim, guardian, or relative has consented to the contact by providing a written notice to the court; and
C) designate a victim service provider to receive all communications from a victim outreach specialist acting on behalf of any person.
(b) A victim, guardian of a victim, or 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.
(c) 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 close relative of a deceased victim is afforded the rights granted by this article and Article 56.021 and, on request, an explanation of those rights.
(d) 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 or Article 56.021. The failure or inability of any person to provide a right or service enumerated in this article or Article 56.021 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 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.
Art.56.021. Rights of Victim of Sexual Assault or Abuse, Stalking, or Trafficking
(a) In addition to the rights enumerated in Article 56.02, if the offense is a sexual assault, the victim, guardian of a victim, or close relative of a deceased victim is entitled to the following rights within the criminal justice system:
- if requested, the right to a disclosure of information regarding any evidence that was collected during the investigation of the offense, unless disclosing the information would interfere with the investigation or prosecution of the offense, in which event the victim, guardian, or relative shall be informed of the estimated date on which that information is expected to be disclosed;
- if requested, the right to a disclosure of information regarding the status of any analysis being performed of any evidence that was collected during the investigation of the offense;
- if requested, the right to be notified:
A) at the time a request is submitted to a crime laboratory to process and analyze any evidence that was collected during the investigation of the offense;
B) at the time of the submission of a request to compare any biological evidence collected during the investigation of the offense with DNA profiles maintained in a state or federal DNA database; and
C) of the results of the comparison described by Paragraph (B), unless disclosing the results would interfere with the investigation or prosecution of the offense, in which event the victim, guardian, or relative shall be informed of the estimated date on which those results are expected to be disclosed;
- if requested, the right to counseling regarding acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection;
- for the victim of the offense, testing for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, antibodies to HIV, or infection with any other probable causative agent of AIDS; and
- to the extent provided by Articles 56.06 and 56.065, for the victim of the offense, the right to a forensic medical examination if, within 96 hours of the offense, the offense is reported to a law enforcement agency or a forensic medical examination is otherwise conducted at a health care facility.
(b) A victim, guardian, or relative who requests to be notified under Subsection (a)(3) must provide a current address and phone number to the attorney representing the state and the law enforcement agency that is investigating the offense. The victim, guardian, or relative must inform the attorney representing the state and the law enforcement agency of any change in the address or phone number.
(c) A victim, guardian, or relative may designate a person, including an entity that provides services to victims of sexual assault, to receive any notice requested under Subsection (a)(3).
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:______ Suggested Outline:
- 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.
How do you reach them?
In your community, contact your local law enforcement agency's Crime Victim Liaison or your prosecutor's Victim Assistance Coordinator.
Or e-mail:email@example.com or Call (800) 983-9933 or (512) 936-1200 (in Austin).
Who May Qualify (TCCP, Art.56.32)
- An innocent victim of crime who suffers physical and/or emotional harm or death
- an authorized individual acting on behalf of a victim
- a person who legally assumes the obligations or voluntarily pays certain expenses related to the crime on behalf of the victim
- a dependent of a victim
- an immediate family member or household members related by blood or marriage who require psychiatric care or counseling as a result of the crime
- an intervenor who goes to the aid of the victim or a peace officer
- a peace officer, fire fighter, or individual whose employment includes the duty of protecting the public
What crimes are covered (TCCP, Art. 56.32(4))
Crimes involving "criminally injurious conduct," which is defined as conduct that occurs or is attempted, poses a substantial threat of personal injury or death and is, or would be, punishable by fine, imprisonment or death. This includes sex offenses, kidnapping, aggravated robbery, assaultive offenses, arson, homicide and other violent crimes in which the victim suffers physical or emotional harm or death.
The following motor-vehicle-related crimes are also covered: Failure to Stop and Render Aid, DWI, Manslaughter, Criminally Negligent Homicide, Aggravated Assault, Intoxication Manslaughter and Intoxication Assault.
Who is not eligible
Benefits may be reduced or denied if the behavior of the victim contributed to the crime.
Benefits shall be denied if the victim or claimant:
- knowingly or willingly participated in the crime
- is the offender or accomplice of the offender
- was incarcerated in a penal institution at the time of the crime
- knowingly or intentionally submits false or forged information to the attorney general
An award of compensation to the claimant or victim will be denied if it would benefit the offender or an accomplice of the offender.
What are the costs that might be compensated?
- medical, hospital, physical therapy or nursing care
- psychiatric care or counseling
- loss of wages due to medical treatment or participation in, or attendance at, the investigation, prosecutorial and judicial processes
- care of a child or a dependent
- loss of support
- funeral and burial expenses
- crime scene clean-up
- replacement costs for clothing, bedding, or property seized as evidence or rendered unusable as a result of the investigation
- attorney fees for assistance in filing the Crime Victims' Compensation application and in obtaining benefits
- loss of wages and travel to seek medical treatment
- one-time relocation expenses for family violence, human trafficking, and stalking victims or for those sexual assault victims attacked in their own residence
In the case of applications involving extraordinary pecuniary losses resulting in a total and permanent disability, the victim may be eligible for additional benefits for:
- making a home or car accessible
- job training and vocational rehabilitation
- training in the use of special appliances
- home health care
- reimbursement of loss of wages
What are the basic qualification requirements?
- The crime must occur in Texas to a Texas resident or a United States resident, or
- the crime must involve a Texas resident who becomes a victim in another state or country that does not have crime victims' compensation benefits for which the victim would be eligible.
Reporting the crime
The crime must be reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency within a reasonable period of time, but not so late as to interfere with or hamper the investigation and prosecution of the crime.
Filing for Compensation (TCCP, Art.56.37.)
You must file the application within three years from the date of the crime. The time may be extended for good cause, including the age of the victim or the physical or mental incapacity of the victim.
Cooperation (TCCP, Art.56.45.)
A claim may be denied or reduced if the claimant or victim has not cooperated with the appropriate law enforcement agencies.