Victims’ Wish List

assassination-attempt-268912_640

On Saturday, May 9, 2015, it wasn’t a case of “too many cooks spoil the broth” on Shattered Lives Radio– it was “many cooks make the broth” when crime victim advocate put their heads’ together on behalf of the public!

click to listen button1

It was really a “meeting of great minds.”  The groundbreaking show can best be described covering a very unusual parole reversal case, combined with victims’ rights policy and the honoring of a fallen police officer who became the victim of a ruthless homicide.

Toward the end of the show, a “wish list” of sorts was created by guest contributors Attorney and former CT State Victim Advocate, Michelle S. Cruz, CT Survivors of Homicide Advocate, Jessica Norton- Pizzano and Plainville, CT Chief of Police Matt Catania.

“How much time do I have? “was Michelle’s question.

Michelle Cruz’s Ideas for Reform:

  1. Devise a checklist of locations to search for family members (for notification purposes)  based upon their former geographic locations,  employment, other known affiliations, special interests etc.  It is high time that Board of Pardons and Parole and Victim Advocates “think out of the box” in an attempt to reach out in every possible way for this important purpose.  In addition to the usual social media,  I’ll add Ancestry.com as a possibility!
  2. Alter the notification period currently from the standard 35 days to at least six months to a year!  Revolutionary? Yes, but in view of how long it takes for state agencies to do their work and the knowledge that attorneys assisting seldom have the flexibility to alter their calendars in 30 days in the midst of court trials etc, this is a realistic time frame.

As seen in the Robert Holcomb parole hearing, relying on outdated documentation and “not going the extra mile” to locate family members for parole hearings, made for an intolerable situation!

  1. “Put some teeth” into the system In other words,  if any one of the many constitutional rights of a crime victim is violated, no matter the reason or the person committing the violation, build in real consequences! What might those consequences be, you ask? I offer: docking someone’s pay, suspension from work, remuneration to the victim from “the party who failed to act.”

Jessica Norton-Pizzano’s Ideas  (via the CT Victim Rights’ Enforcement Advisory Council )

  1. Create a central place to compile, and display victims’ rights information from all agencies  in all court settings including Survivors of Homicide, (SOH), Mother’s Against Drunk Drivers,  (MADD), Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services (CONNSACS), Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV), The Office of Victim Services, (OVS) ,and The Office of the Victim Advocate (OVA).  This could include information desks, special kiosks etc.
  2. Establish a long-term notification system , in particular including minor children, as they will be the  future representatives for cases in which parents and other relatives pass on over time.
  3. Utilize the full capacities of SAVIN.  Include another box on the form that would provide for in person notification if the family chooses.  Refer to one of my former blog posts:  The Most Important “Head’s Up EVER! The Victim Information Notification System (VINE)

Police Chief Matt Catania’s Ideas

  1. It is vital to keep the human touch in the process versus relying on “paper and  electronic methods” as we continue to serve victims of crime.

It should be noted that it was Matt’s valiant efforts to unearth the true nature of the injustices done to the Robert Holcomb family, to strategically work collaboratively  and with sensitivity for family members using uncompromising standards so  that  justice was done for both families!

“Nothing can replace the power of human contact and compassion.”  LadyJustice

PLEASE listen to this podcast and share.

click to listen button1

 

Victim Impact Statements: Texas Style

lone-star-state-386514_640

Of all the 50 States, we know by reputation that Texas doesn’t mess around, in particular when it comes to executions. They rank #1 with 522 state executions since 1982, and six thus far in 2015. Compared to other states, Texas takes a hard line.

When their victim impact statement packet is examined from a formatting standpoint, it appears to me, a homicide survivor, to be thorough.

Texas is an “opt in” state for crime victims in choosing to receive “cafeteria style” services from a list versus granting all services automatically and asking a family to “opt out” of those services they are not interested in.

A useful feature of their packet highlights how under which circumstances a victim impact statement is used.

  • PROSECUTOR:  Considers VIS before entering a plea agreement; Considers VIS before to determine restitution (if requested)
  • JUDGE: Considers VIS before imposing sentence by judge (No jury hers it.) Considers VIS before accepting a plea deal;
  • DEFENSE: (EXCLUDING Confidential Info Sheet. Includes notification preferences and personal demographic info.)  The Defense “may see” VIS with the court’s approval and may introduce evidence or testimony regarding content accuracy;
  • PROBATION DEPARTMENT: “Has access” to VIS;
  • TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE:  As part of the process, if the defendant is sentenced to prison, the VIS is forwarded to the TDCJ;
  • BOARD OF PARDONS & PAROLE: The BP&P will “consider the VIS” prior to rendering a decision whether to release the prisoner to parole supervision or to retain.

If we examine the language, some parties “consider,” others “may see” while still others only “forward.”  It would appear that not everyone in the system has equal weight, as it should be, with the judge as the final authority.

Next, the packet includes “dry” statutory definitions and a list of general victim rights followed by rights concerning victims of sexual assault.

Code of Criminal Procedure, Chapter 56 Texas Constitution, Article I Section 30

  • Receive adequate protection from harm and threats of harm arising from cooperation with prosecution efforts;
  • have their safety considered by the magistrate when setting bail;
  • receive information, on request, of relevant court proceedings, including appellate proceedings, of cancellations and rescheduling prior to the event, and appellate court decisions after the decisions are entered but before they are made public;
  • be informed, when requested, by a peace officer about the defendant’s right to bail and criminal investigation procedures, and from the prosecutor’s office about general procedures in the criminal justice system, including plea agreements, restitution, appeals and parole;
  • provide pertinent information concerning the impact of the crime to the probation department prior to sentencing;
  • information about the Texas Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund and payment for a medical examination for a victim of sexual assault, and, on request, referral to social service agencies that provide additional assistance;
  • information, on request, about parole procedures; notification of parole proceedings and of the inmate’s release; and the opportunity to participate in the parole process by submitting written information to the Board of Pardons and Paroles for inclusion in the defendant’s file for consideration by the Board prior to parole;
  • a separate or secure waiting area at all public court proceedings;
  • prompt return of any property that is no longer needed as evidence;
  • have the prosecutor notify, upon request, an employer that the need for the victim’s testimony may involve the victim’s absence from work;
  • on request, counseling and testing regarding AIDS and HIV infection and testing for victims of sexual assault
  • request victim-offender mediation coordinated by the Victim Services Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice;
  • be informed of the use and purpose of a victim impact statement, to complete a victim impact statement and to have the statement considered before sentencing and acceptance of a plea bargain and before an inmate is released on parole.

A victim, guardian of a victim, or close relative of a deceased victim may be present at all public court proceedings, with the consent of the presiding judge; 

A judge, attorney for the state, peace officer, or law enforcement agency is not liable for a failure or inability to provide a service enumerated herein. 

Victims should also know that they can have a victim advocate accompany them during the sexual assault exam if an advocate is available at the time of the examination. 

Please call your crime victim services contacts in law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office for more information about victim services in your community. 

Contents of the Confidential Information Sheet 

  • Basic identifying info regarding the defendant;
  • Instructions and  brief checklist regarding the effect that the crime had on the victim and family;
  • Victim’s Name; 19 item Checklist with emotionally related feelings (i.e. Changes in sleep pattern, anger, depression, fear of strangers etc.)
  • Question – if counseling has been sought, with the opportunity to write a narrative about the family member’s “thoughts, feelings and general well-being”.
  • Narrative Section for Physical Injuries suffered due to the crime, asking  the extent of injuries, longevity and location of treatment received;
  • Financial Loss Section- Requests the type of losses incurred with a brief checklist including inquiry re victim compensation and the recommendation of keeping a log
  • Final signature and Date

What’s Missing?

There is no mention, nor can I find legislative effort for Texas families to provide photos of their loved one during these vitally important events. This may exist if requeste, I just could not locate any evidence in my search that it is part of the procedure.

MISSING- Any recommendation to “paint the picture” using a  description of who the deceased victim was as a person, as a member of the family, his/her  previous contributions, talents, hopes, dreams, missed opportunities!  No mention is made to provide a videotaped statement by significant family members who cannot physically attend or who may be elderly, frail and pass on in the future and want to have their wishes documented.

It’s like baking a cake and omitting the flour!

Finding the Missing Piece

puzzle-654961_640One of the remaining avenues for crime victims to have a voice within the courts is through victim impact statements. Victim impact statements are usually read after trial as a way to get into the record the impact of the crime on the victims along with their friends and families.

Creating the appropriate victim impact statement can be a daunting task for families during one of the most traumatic times in their lives. After the initial loss, the journey through the judicial system can be equally frustrating, time-consuming and emotionally draining, re-traumatizing and bringing grief back to the surface. To best utilize the victims’ right to present a victim impact statement at trial, you must be clear-headed and as objective as possible, which for the crime victim is next to impossible.

I provide a professional Victim Impact Statement Assistance Service for surviving victims that may be too emotionally distraught, or may not have the ability to correctly express their feelings.

If you are in the above situation, please go to Victim Impact Statement Assistance Service for more information and my credentials.

 

 

References:

http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/publications/pubs_victim_impact_statement.html

https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/victims/victim_rights.shtml

 

The Best Kept Secret: The Crime of Abandoned Babies

autumn-165184_640

“Babies don’t deserve to be thrown in the garbage like the scrapings off the plates of the Thanksgiving dinner.”  Connecticut Superior Court Judge Robert Delvin, Jr.

“Cost neutral communication options” is the term used since April 2010 from the Connecticut Department of Children and Families and legislators when it comes to the “throw away behavior” concerning babies born to girls who are not prepared to be parents.

The Law in Connecticut:

The Safe Haven Law was enacted in year 2000, in part as a result of a case occurring in Cheshire, CT in November 1995 with a conviction of second degree manslaughter.

5.1-4 Manslaughter in the Second Degree — § 53a-56 (a) (1) Instructions to a Jury:
“A person is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree when (he/she) recklessly causes the death of another person. For you to find the defendant guilty of this charge, the state must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt.  In summary, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that 1) the defendant caused the death of <insert name of decedent>, and 2) the defendant’s actions that resulted in the death were reckless.”

In summary, infants 30 days old or younger can be brought to a Safe Haven (defined as any hospital emergency department). A nurse will meet the parent in a private room to obtain medical history (if the parent choses). Parental rights will be terminated in order for the baby to be adopted, and they will be given a packet from DCF. DCF will assume immediate custody of the infant. If the parent changes her/his mind, it is recommended that they immediately contact DCF and apply for legal representation.

Parents who do no harm to their infant, cannot be criminally charged with abandonment if they use the Safe Haven law.

UPDATE 2015:

safehavenHouse Bill 5793 “An Act Establishing Safe Haven Day” would designate April 2nd each year to promote increased awareness of the Safe Haven law and dedicate the day to discussion and promotion.”

This is where the cost neutral portion intersects with real life. Although it may make legislators “feel good,” in my opinion, it is like emptying the ocean with a teaspoon to devote a sole day to discussing this issue! Unwanted babies may give rise to a missing person’s status, or intimate partner violence or human trafficking situations and can ultimately lead to homicide.

“No cost to the State methods” includes group discussions re ways to better promote, use of social media and perhaps locating a volunteer videographer to create a documentary in which these girls can “tell their stories.”

Recent Connecticut Case: August 2014

Newborn Baby Found Dead In Trash Can

EAST HARTFORD — Detectives are investigating the death of a baby whose body was found in a trash can outside a Tolland Street home Tuesday night.

Police were dispatched to 1047 Tolland St. at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday for a check welfare call and after checking the area found an infant’s body in an outside trash can, police said. The child had been born recently. East Hartford paramedics pronounced the newborn dead.

Sgt. Michael DeMaine said police went to the house after a doctor at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center called them to report that an 18-year-old woman arrived at the hospital showing signs of giving birth, but without a baby.

In the Beginning:  Connecticut  

Don’t ever say that bad things don’t happen to good law-abiding people living in affluent communities.

It was in the picture perfect town of Cheshire that an unforgiveable crime was committed in 1995 by a 16-year-old Cheshire High school girl named Amanda Beckett. She became pregnant by her boyfriend in February 1995, “but never consciously acknowledged she was pregnant  or sought help.” She was approached at school about the possibility of being pregnant and if she was in denial.

Her mother, Barbara, was a pediatric nurse and still did not recognize any signs of pregnancy. The defense attorney claimed Amanda may have mistaken her labor pains for menstrual cramps.

On the afternoon  of the birth, she stayed home from school and then realized she may be pregnant when she went to the bathroom.  Police presented a probable scenario that she was helpless, afraid and traumatized for about ten minutes, retrieved the baby from the toilet,  and slapped its buttocks without response.

The Medical Examiner ruled that the baby was born alive and remained so “for just a few minutes” dying of asphyxiation with drowning and contusions.

The Aftermath

Reportedly,  Amanda “meticulously cleaned up the scene,” double bagged the baby and threw her son, Joshua Paul, away  “like trash.” Beckett returned to school the next day and even attended a football game as if nothing occurred! safe5

When questioned by the police, she denied the baby was hers and tried to divert their attention away from her and actually named four other high school girls she believed to be pregnant! Her son’s remains were located weeks later at the Resource Recovery Center in Wallingford.

Beckett was an “unsophisticated criminal” who also left a cut up credit card in the trash bag that was traced to her. She was arrested in December 1995 and charged with first degree manslaughter under the Alfred Doctrine, not admitting guilt, but conceding there was enough evidence to convict her.

Superior Court Judge Robert J. Devlin, Jr. wanted to send a clear message that, “I’m not labeling you as evil. I’m not labeling you as a sinister person. Babies don’t deserve to be thrown in the garbage like the scrapings  off the plates of the Thanksgiving dinner.”

The  baby deserved to have a life and because the offense is so serious, punishment is warranted.  The Sentence in 1997 was 18 months in prison and five years probation. BUT, the TRUE sentence served  by Amanda was only seven months!

Her tearful response in court: “I’m just sorry for what I did. If I could change it, I would.” 

Horry County, South Carolina

Mother who abandoned newborn baby in Myrtle Beach-area dumpster turns herself in

There was a “small noise coming from a dumpster in Fairway Village, near Green Island Country Club on April 9, 2015. A newborn baby was trapped inside a plastic bag. Austin Detray located the baby and assisted his mother in reviving the baby.  Reported  two females were seen in a white car exiting the complex rapidly. 

On April 11th 23 year old Shelby Harper Taylor was arrested for attempted murder And was granted a $10,000 bond and instructed “not to come in contact with children” until DCF approves. 

Critics of the Safe Haven Law

(Year 2000) “They ensure no support for the women , ignore the role of the father and may encourage women to abandon if they are unhappy with its sex(gender) or if it has disabilities”

“When these girls become pregnant, it’s too late…” James Dinnan, Senior Assistant State’s Attorney in the Amanda Beckett case.

DCF may now offer more programs for the female offender in 2015, but then there are always more cuts to social programs. Should social media be the teacher here? Don’t trash your baby!

Supporters say if the effort saves but one life, it is worth the legislation and all efforts!

The Best Kept Secret: The Crime of Abandoned Babies

Hello, We Have a Problem: Crisis Hotline

crisis hotline, crisis intervention

Photo credit/Wikipedia

Would YOU be capable of handling a real crisis on the phone? I’m not so sure, with all of my education, experience in dealing with patients, clients and victims/survivors, whether my knowledge and common sense would effectively apply in all situations.

Could I do it? Could you??
According to the (Albert R Robert’s, Ph.D.) Seven Stage Crisis Intervention Model, one must:

1) Plan and conduct crisis and biopsychosocial assessment (including lethality measures);

2) Establish rapport and rapidly establish collaborative relationship;

3) Identify dimensions presenting problems(including the “last straw” or crisis precipitants;

4) Explore feelings and emotions (including active listening and validation);

5) Generate and explore alternatives (untapped resources and coping skills);

6) Develop and formulate an action plan;

7) Follow-up plan and agreement (Point of crisis resolution). It appears that these assessment steps must be completed relatively quickly and skillfully.

Psychologist, Barry Greenwald, PhD of Oak Park, Illinois describes a crisis as: “Any event can be a crisis if it wipes out our ability to make sense out of what is happening. We become bereft of means for exercising some form of control on our lives. We feel helpless; the victim of events beyond reason and certainly beyond our control. It is only after we regain some sense of understanding and some sense of control that the crisis is reduced to something manageable.”
Caller Characteristics:

  • The caller is likely to be very upset and disorganized in his/her presentation. Occasionally, a caller will present in a wooden, robot-like manner, devoid of any feelings whatsoever;
  • The caller cannot make sense of or understand what has happened;
  • The caller complains of not knowing what to do and expresses a loss of ability to do anything about the acute problem;
  • The listener intensely experiences the caller’s sense of helplessness and feels a very real pull to intervene actively to take control of the situation.

The Response:

  • The listener can provide organization to the caller by asking questions;
  • Help the caller to just describe the events that have taken place without emphasizing the feelings. There will be opportunity to come back to them;
  • Try to get a feeling for the person’s coping style and what is still working. Sometimes, it is just necessary to encourage and reinforce coping styles that are very wobbly.
  • Questions such as: “What do you feel you’ll be able to do?” “Is there something you want to do about this?” Their responses can provide clues as to how well a person is coping and where you might need to lend your skills to theirs;
  • Gently educate the person as to what they might expect for the next couple of days during the acute phase of the crisis (A roller coaster effect and that this is very normal)
  • In any crisis call, you should listen for and be alert to suicidal potential. If you sense that possibility, do not hesitate to bring it up for discussion. You may have to actively encourage the person to seek a safer situation, and arrange for people to be with her or him, or even suggest hospitalization;
  • Make concrete plans with them in a step-by-step fashion and only for the next couple of days. And…encourage the caller to call back after a few days in order to see how things are going;
  • Be aware that, a crisis can be the tip of an emotional iceberg…. that further professional intervention may be needed…

Do you feel re-assured yet? If not, how much training is really needed?

An internet search revealed a range of 55 to 200 minimum hours. One resource offering accreditation, training conferences etc. is Contact USA, (a network of crisis intervention centers across the nation.) Conceived in 1967 as a response to the growing social issues of a changing nation, CONTACT has grown and evolved into a network of over 50 centers in 20 states, exploring new ways in which to serve their individual communities.
Anyone who volunteers in a crisis situation is a VERY SPECIAL PERSON in my book!