In the Beginning: My 1987 Victim Impact Statement

Donna R. Gore

It had already been what most people would consider a long-suffering life by the time I had reached my 26th year, just out of graduate school and embark upon my first professional, paid job. There had been years of physical therapy, surgeries of two major types, hospital admissions so frequent, they became a “way of life”, speech therapy and discrimination in higher education saying, “I had too many disabilities to succeed.”

In reality, I did not consider it long-suffering, it was just routine when I was going through it as a child, something I had to do to maintain. I was resilient and had strong parents, grandmothers, and neighbors to get me through!

Then homicide happened. To say it was life altering was an understatement of mass proportion. But, fast forward to 6.5 years later after “baptism by fire” regarding the criminal justice system, the lack of resources for victims in 1981, the promise that the head detective should never have made, disillusionment, so many questions, few answers and so many mistakes made with the case to be revealed later on.

However, within that mix, there was also a rebirth of sorts of this disability and LGBT advocate. In a strange sort of way I had found a true calling, another way to assist others. My intellectual curiosity was peaked forever. I became a standout member of Survivors of Homicide, Inc. in Connecticut. We were honing our voices on behalf of others at a time when crime victim advocacy was in its infancy. There was lots of planning, planning, planning, coupled with support meetings, creating awareness and numerous media appearances, and events, including volunteer court escorting with new families, and a fundraising golf tournament, just to scratch the surface of our many years of intense dedication.

In the process of obtaining justice we had to wait, not so patiently, for 6 1/2 years for our voice to be heard as this former drug dealer and multiple murderer was busy with the judicial process regarding other charges.

Don Gore

My father, Donald Gore

At times, the wait was intolerable, but there was no getting around it. There were other surprises to come, for instance, the use of joinder (essentially stringing two cases together that have like elements and defendants in order to make an ultimately stronger case when one is lacking sufficient evidence to convict  with one jury.) During that time, I cut my teeth on the hard truths and tried to assist others as my means of coping.

The trial lasted three weeks. Summoning our courage, trying to keep our emotions in check, my mother and I separately delivered our first victim impact statement.

Looking back on it now, I could have said a lot more. I could have said it differently and maybe better. I could have painted a more holistic picture. That would come years later with time, experience, and thousands of additional words as a writer, and now published author.

I offer the original here as a brief testimonial from the heart. Stay tuned for the second victim impact statement in a forthcoming blog!

VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENT

Re Victim Donald W. Gore 

Written by Eldest Daughter- Donna R. Gore

I’d like to thank you for this opportunity; one that I doubted would ever come to be until a few months ago. 

It is difficult to explain the impact of my father’s death in a few short minutes. No words could do justice to his life or his memory. My father made mistakes in his life as every human being on this earth. However, he was not on trial and the good he did far outweighed the bad. His strong belief in the work ethic, responsibility to family, and providing for those less fortunate, some former employees who needed a job, a meal money, clothes…he was there to provide. 

He was also there when I was in need of 50 surgical procedures throughout my childhood-a time in which both of my parents made many sacrifices so that I might have a better healthier quality of life.

We have been deprived of a father, a parent and all that the role implies. But, just as importantly, my father has been deprived too. He has been deprived of the opportunity of seeing the achievements his family and friends have and will make; deprived of observing success as he measured it – financial security, a comfortable lifestyle, education, career, the possibility of marriage for his children and grandchildren. All that and more has been taken away or curtailed and often replaced with much struggle and pain especially for my mother and grandmother due to his needless death. The most sincere statement I can make is to say I miss him and always will. 

It is clear to me that Perry Lee Herring is the ultimate failure in society. This multiple offender has proven time and time again that he has total disregard for human life; that he cannot be rehabilitated. Why else would he randomly fire four bullets into an unsuspecting unarmed person? Was it all for a few dollars? It doesn’t make sense and it never will.

I would ask that when you pass sentence, you consider my father’s death as a very real loss for a number of people and that you consider the multitude of crimes this person has committed. I would ask if his life must be spared, that he be incarcerated for the rest of his life in a maximum security prison with no possibility of earning “good time.” Although no action you could take will return my father to us, imposing such a sentence will give us some peace of mind of which we have deprived for six and a half years. 

Thank you for your Consideration

Sincerely,

Donna R. Gore

6-30-1987

A Cry for Help in the Middle of the Night

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The job of a crime victim advocate is by no means a 9 to 5 existence.  Fragile human beings often can’t adhere to time schedules.  Their lives have spun out of control.

Those who are paid advocates answer the phone during business hours, leave an 800 number or advice to call 911 during off hours.  But, the trouble is trauma and life and death situations just don’t conform.

A person may be actively grieving, in physical, emotional or psychological pain. They may be terrified of some event in their life, not realizing why they remain helpless. Past decisions often place them in circumstances they could never foresee.

Armchair critics can easily point fingers and pass judgement regarding the complexities of people’s lives, not realizing that their own situations can change in a New York minute if the Gods foretell.

In the many years I have worked with victims, each is unique in some way, and yet there is a constant familiar ring to their personal stories, their desperation, the longer you listen.

Examples – (Frequently Intimate Partner Violence in nature)

“Please reply before he kills me”  “He ignored the restraining order”  I went to the police, but they did nothing.  I have no money.  I’m afraid for my children. The system in the State of ____ is totally against me.   I can’t escape him as he watches my every move” “I don’t have a phone.”

In a previous blog post, Homicide as a Steady Diet, I discussed the fact that I am at risk of being typecast as a homicide expert with nothing else to offer. Regardless of people’s reading habits or radio listening preferences, I fight against this image, as it is just not true.

Insatiable appetite for violence or not, I will not be painted as a one trick pony. At the other end of the spectrum are the indiscriminate victims reaching out to anyone and everyone. There are two groups of people I worry about:

1)  The truly terrorized, as in intimate partner violence victims and,

2) Those who perceive injustices to themselves. Their pervasive victimization as so great, having been worn down by the system so badly, that they lash out at everyone and become truly toxic in their words and actions. It is a poison that no one can alleviate.

If you read between the lines, the former group may want to be helped and truly lack the resources, the support, the resiliency, and the know how. Fear may have immobilized them. They actually say, “I am going to die and don’t know where to turn.”  Imagine their burdens, but try to imagine the responsibility and the burden it also imposes on the receiving end of compassionate, helpful, well intentioned people.  

The second group of people may say they want help, but their account is so vile, the blame towards others so pervasive, without taking any personal responsibility, that they just want a stage upon which to vent their rage. 

Why is the distinction of these two groups important? It is important to me as you have to think quickly on your feet as it can sincerely be a matter of life and death.

Lucky for me, these desperate cries for help do not come as a steady diet, but they do come to my website, particularly related to intimate partner violence. I do not invite them. They are indiscriminate. They are supposed to leave information about victim impact statement inquiries and they ignore the instructions.

For the record, I do have a working knowledge of IPV, thanks to Susan Murphy Milano and many other colleagues over the years. However, this does not qualify me as an expert, nor do I necessarily want to take on these issues as my own.  It appears that the Tracey Thurman blog post has created a monster of sorts in this area.  I suspect that my well researched, carefully written and wildly popular blog of this historic Connecticut case is the culprit here.   I gratefully accept the exposure it has given me, but it can be a double edged sword.

Readers, please do not confuse my God given talent as a superior writer to tell a story with expertise in every subject matter pertaining to crime!

Just a couple of weeks ago on a December night when I had gone to bed, my phone lit up and “whooshed” a message.  A response was sent by a colleague to a true life or death IPV victim who wrote to me in desperation. I so appreciated her rapid response, for intuitively, we both know it was very serious.

It matters not that this victim did not follow the rules and used my personal website as a call for help.  It only matters that good and useful information was provided at a moment’s notice when needed. I only hope that the women chose to follow through with the information.  Bless you, my friend for helping. Much love to you for caring in my place. You just may have saved a life.  CALL IT GRACE…..

 

 

Victim Impact Statements: A Piece of Justice

Domino_Cascade

Crime: The Domino Effect

The domino effect causes a sequence of reactions where a reactive product or by-product causes additional reactions to take place. It typically refers to a linked sequence of events where the time between successive events is relatively small.

And so it goes… when crime occurs… the dominoes fall…

Where did the Victim Impact Statement Begin?

Paying homage to the person credited with giving the first official victim impact statement

Doris Gwendolyn Tate (January 16, 1924 – July 10, 1992) was an advocate for the rights of crime victims following the murder of her daughter, actress Sharon Tate. She worked to raise public awareness about the United States corrections system and was influential in the amendment of California laws relating to the victims of violent crime.

Doris Tate was born in Houston Texas, and mother of three daughters. In 1969, Sharon, was at the beginning of a film career, and married to film director Roman Polanski. Eight months pregnant with their first child, Tate and four others were murdered at the Polanski’s’ rented Beverly Hills home in a case that was sensationalized throughout the world.

Cropped screenshot of Sharon Tate from the tra...

The killers were eventually identified as Charles “Tex “Watson, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel, acting on behalf of the leader of their group, Charles Manson

All four were found guilty of the murders and sentenced to death, along with Lesley Van Houten, who had not participated in the murder of the Tate victims, but had participated in the murder of a Los Angeles couple the following night.

The death sentences were overturned before they could be applied. when the State of California temporarily abolished the death penalty.

For more than a decade after the murders, Doris Tate battled depression and unable to discuss her daughter’s death.

The Turning Point:

In 1982, Doris was told that Leslie Van Houten had obtained 900 signatures supporting her quest to achieve parole. Tate mounted a public campaign against Van Houten, winning the support of the National Enquirer, which printed coupons for people to sign and send to Doris With more than 350,000 signatures, Tate demonstrated that a considerable number of people opposed Van Houten’s parole, which was denied.

She later became an active member of the Victim Offender Reconciliation and Justice for Homicide Victims groups. She founded COVER, the Coalition on Victim’s Equal Rights, and served on the California State Advisory Committee on Correctional Services as a victims’ representative.

She was part of a group that worked toward the passage of Proposition 8, the Victim’s Rights Bill, which was passed in 1982. It allowed the presentation of victim impact statements during the sentencing of violent attackers.

Tate became the first Californian to make such a statement after the law was passed, when she spoke at the parole hearing of one of her daughter’s killers.

In 1984 she ran for the California State Assembly as an advocate for victim’s rights. Though unsuccessful,, she continued to campaign for changes to existing laws, and was involved in the passage of Proposition 89, which allowed the governor of the state to overturn decisions made by the Board of Prison Terms.

Tate’s assessment of Manson, Watson, Atkins, Krenwinkel and Van Houten concluded that their crimes were so vicious as to warrant execution. While addressing Charles Watson at his 1984 parole hearing, she said,

“What mercy, sir, did you show my daughter when she was begging for her life? What mercy did you show my daughter when she said, “Give me two weeks to have my baby and then you can kill me? 

When will Sharon come up for parole? Will these seven victims and possibly more walk out of their graves if you get paroled? You cannot be trusted”. She confronted Watson again at his 1990 parole hearing.       The Doris Tate Crime Victim’s Bureau  

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Explaining the Overall Impact of Victim Impact Statement

You want to convey the journey and the overall toll it has taken from many perspectives-emotionally, psychologically, physically, financially, your outlook on life currently and projecting into the future, your wishes regarding the disposition of the perpetrator, and changes to the system which negatively impacted and/or re-victimized you or alternately, your satisfaction with how you were treated.

Familiarizing the deciding body with the victim

It is imperative that you provide a complete portrayal of your loved one both visually and narratively, as this may be your sole opportunity for several years (several years up until the point of your initial court or parole appearance or several years until you obtain another opportunity!) Talk about who your loved one was beyond the crime; their assets, talents, what they contributed to the family and to others and their aspirations for the future that were taken away.

Expressing Fear for Your Personal Safety 

This is one of your Constitutional rights, currently in 33 states and under the Federal Statute – Crime Victim’s Right’s Act enacted in October 2004: The right to be reasonably protected.

Example- State of Connecticut Constitution Article XXIX – Rights of Victims of Crime 

In all criminal prosecutions, a victim, as the general assembly may define by law, shall have the following rights:

  • The right to be treated with fairness and respect throughout the criminal justice process;
  • The right to timely disposition of the case following arrest of the accused, provided no right of the accused is abridged;
  • The right to be reasonably protected from the accused throughout the criminal justice process;
  • The right to notification of court proceedings;
  • The right to attend the trial and all other court proceedings the accused has the right to attend, unless such person is to testify and the court determines that such person’s testimony would be materially affected if such person hears other testimony;
  • The right to communicate with the prosecution;
  • The right to object to or support any plea agreement entered into by the accused and the prosecution and to make a statement to the court prior to the acceptance by the court of the plea of guilty or nolo contendere by the accused (i.e. A plea made by the defendant in a criminal action that is substantially but not technically an admission of guilt and subjects the defendant to punishment but permits denial of the alleged facts in other proceedings.);
  • The right to make a statement to the court at sentencing;
  • The right to restitution which shall be enforceable in the same manner as any other cause of action or as otherwise provided by law;
  • The right to information about the arrest, conviction, sentence, imprisonment and release of the accused.

Seeking Restitution

Restitution is payment by the offender to the victim to cover some or all of the costs associated with a crime. It is ordered by a judge and usually paid through the Court Support Services Division, or other entity within your state…To request restitution in a criminal court case, contact the State’s Attorney Office or the OVS victim services advocate, located in the court where the criminal case will be prosecuted.

Social Security Administration

Victims or their family members may be eligible for survivor benefits, Medicare, and other social security benefits. For more information, please call the Social Security Administration (SSA) toll-free at 800-772-1213, TTD: 800-325-0778, or visit the Social Security Administration website.

Workers’ Compensation Commission

Available to employees through their employers, workers’ compensation provides wage replacement benefits and medical treatment for injuries that occurred in the workplace or on company property. For more information, call the Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC) toll-free, in Connecticut only, 800-223-9675 or visit the Worker’s Compensation Commission website.

“Revenge” Emotional Release

Whether you call it “revenge” or “emotional release” or “venting,” there is some latitude given here…as opposed to the criminal court process in which a poker face must be maintained with no emotion allowed whatsoever or you will be banished from the court… It is normal to have emotion and to show your sorrow and anger….

Adding Information to the Criminal Proceeding

Parole/Pardons Board You may have relevant information pertaining to the defendant for the court or parole/pardons board which can influence the ultimate length or provisions of sentencing. It is important that this information be shared and part of the record. [Ladyjustice- As per Atty. M. Cruz, crime victims are not given the opportunity to provide a victim impact statement during civil trials because the attorney represents the interests of the victim directly in civil proceedings (and could argue for damages on their behalf )… WHEREAS in a criminal trial, prosecutors represent the interests of the State and not the victims directly].

Altering Sentencing

Your information could be the determining factor in whether the defendant stays in prison or not. Ladyjustice attended a parole hearing several years ago on behalf of a victim’s family in New Haven, in which following the presentation of the parent’s victim impact statements, the perpetrator was given an additional 10 year sentence!! This also occurred with a friend’s case whose brother was murdered California! You may think that the outcome is always pre-determined… BUT there are those instances in which you CAN effect significant change…

Educating Judicial Officials Regarding Victim’s Constitutional Rights:

It is more the exception than the rule that the victim’s rights are known, acknowledged and enforced in whichever arena …. You have to be your own advocate and educate others, obtain an attorney who has expertise in crime victim rights. Even when you “have your ducks in arrow” you probably will have to fight for those rights as you encounter resistance. NEVER ASSUME THEY KNOW AND WILL ENFORCE!  My personal experience is a prime example.

A Forum to Express Forgiveness

(In a small percentage of cases) Whether we collectively or individually agree, regardless of the heinous acts of violence resulting in maiming or taking of a life(s), there are those victims who have the capacity to forgive …even murderers because of their strong religious beliefs.  I say you may have a straight shot to heaven for this more than generous act.

Issues Relating to Victim Impact Statements

In the Intervening Years

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Hypothetically, a perpetrator is sentenced to 25 to 50 years.  Are they actually going to serve all of that time? The answer is “No.” In very general terms, it’s usually the mandatory minimum, perhaps 80% of the sentence in combination with other factors such as” earned good time,” depending on the state and whether determinant sentencing or indeterminate sentencing was ”the yardstick” at the time; whether there were mistakes made in the prosecution and potential issues for appeal and the fact that now  the rules have changed.So,  law enforcement should never make promises to families about the perp “never getting out.”

What should the family do to prepare in those intervening years? What they should do and what they are able to do are two different matters….

Large proportions of victims put “it“ away in the corner of their minds and don’t want to think about it until and unless they have to. Those of us who are in “the business” of victim advocacy are different, as we have a different personal investment and reasons for staying involved. Those victims who chose not to stay engaged and seemingly “move on with their lives” until the boom drops, they get the call or letter and the dominoes begin to fall.

A likely scenario is that they suddenly panic, or are steadfast in their anger and resentment, “Why should I change anything in my life when he is the criminal, not me?”

This is a normal “self preservation type reaction. They are fearful and angry of the impact for which they have no control. They feel that they are not responsible to do anything for they never asked for this to occur. This is all true, however, it is cliché.

A Few Suggestions:

  • If you cannot or choose not to be involved with what will occur in the intervening years, you must not live “in a dream world,” thinking it’s over for good.
  • Accept the possibility that you may have won the battle, but not the war….
  • Be vigilant…. You do not have to immerse yourself in crime victim issued daily…. But you must have a working knowledge of the process, your case and the potential for it to “rise up out of the ashes” again
  • Hire an attorney who is skilled regarding crime victim issues or seek out pro bono legal
  • Services in your state: http://apps.americanbar.org/legalservices/probono/directory.html http://www.probono.net/about/
  • Seek out your local victim advocate and get to know that person on a first name basis and call when needed
  • Chose another family representative who is better suited to represent the family for notifications and “being the ‘go to” person;
  • Keep track of your feelings over time in a personal notebook or journal in the event that your presence is significantly needed to provide an impact statement at a hearing
  • If you are provided alternatives for housing for your health and safety…. Take them….
  • Although you are not the criminal…. You should not pay the ultimate e price with your life… for then the perpetrator has won again! This is not easy or easily said,.. However, life is not fair many times and we have to do this for our own healing.

Should I or Should I Not Attend a Sentencing or Hearing?

According to Michelle S. Cruz, Attorney and Crime Victim Advocate, time has not been a true friend to victims when it comes to misinformation by prosecutors and other judicial persons providing advice. Even in November 2013, their attitude is cavalier on this matter, frequently telling victims,(regardless of the type of case, ”Oh, you don’t have to bother…It’s no big deal…)

How many times have we heard that one and then it turned out to be a significant event. Whether for expediency or laziness, victims need to decide if they should be there as part of their rights and never be told “It’s not as big deal.” Information is power. Your option is always to have your assigned victim advocate or your private attorney appear on your behalf and report directly what transpired.

How Far We’ve Come:

Judges and juries care about what you have been through. It hasn’t always been that way.

Victim advocate Jo Kolanda describes a sentencing hearing she attended in the 1970’s:

“I went to court for the sentencing of a defendant who had been convicted of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle. With me were the mom and dad of the young woman he killed. The offender’s parents, friends, and pastor told the court what a wonderful guy he was. The victim’s parents asked the assistant district attorney to ask the judge if they could tell the court about their daughter. The judge said they could not because . “It would be inflammatory.” Then he added that….. “He couldn’t understand why this simple traffic case was cluttering up his court calendar in the first place.”

[Reference: Janice Harris Lord, ACSW-LMSW/LPC For Mothers Against Drunk Driving Copyright © 2003 Mothers Against Drunk Driving, James Rowland, founder of the Victim Impact Statement; Anne Seymour of Justice Solutions in Washington, D.C et.al]

Key Federal Victims’ Rights Legislation 

1974 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act

1980 Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act

1982 Victim and Witness Protection Act

1982 Missing Children’s Act

1984 Victims of crime act

1984 Justice Assistance Act

1984 Missing Children’s Assistance Act

1984 Family Violence Prevention and Services Act

1985 Children’s Justice Act

1988 Drunk Driving Prevention Act

1990 Hate Crime Statistics Act

1990 Victims of Child Abuse Act

1990 Victims’ Rights and Restitution Act

1990 National Child Search Assistance Act

1992 Battered Women’s Testimony Act

1993 Child Sexual Abuse Registry Act

1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act

1994 Violence against Women act

1996 Community Notification Act (“Megan’s Law”)

1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act

1996 Mandatory Victims’ Restitution Act

1997 Victims’ Rights Clarification Act

1998 Crime Victims with Disabilities Awareness Act

1998 Identity Theft and Deterrence Act

2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act

2001 Air Transportation Safety and System Stabiliza-

tion Act (established September 11th Victim Compensation Fund)

2003 PROTECT Act (“Amber Alert” law)

2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act

2003 Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act

2004 Justice for all act including Title I The Scott Campbell, Stephanie Roper, Wendy Preston,

Louarna Gillis, and Nila Lynn Crime Victims’ Rights Act

2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act

2010 Tribal Law and Order Act

Other References

http://www.sccvc.org/sccvc/documents/Your_Victim_Impact_Statement.pdf

http://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ncvrw2013/pdf/Landmarks.pdf

http://www.jud.ct.gov/Publications/vs010.pdf

 Victim Impact Statements: A Piece of Justice

Michelle Cruz and the OVA: “The Independent Watchdog” Empowering Crime Victims

Michelle Cruz,Donna R. Gore,LadyJustice,Shattered Lives

On the most recent edition of “Shattered Lives,” Michelle Cruz, Esquire, spoke of a crime victim’s plight in a way that many can relate to in Connecticut…and throughout the country.   She knows from professional and personal experience….

As the Administrator of the State of Connecticut Office of the Victim Advocate, an independent, autonomous agency for crime victims, she rightfully stated that crime victims are “in a virtual prison” simply by being victims who are unfamiliar with their rights and “the system.”  This is a form of re-victimization that many victims encounter.

As a new crime victim, we enter the system…We believe that prosecutors and the police will always take an interest.   We believe they will always do the right thing… We want to believe that they will respond in a timely manner and keep us informed.  We want them to put the pieces together and make our case a priority.  However, we know that given law enforcements’ lack of training concerning the rights of crime victims… and what really matters to them, the sheer volume of cases… the “lack of resources in hard economic times,” “This is an active case that I can’t discuss…” and a myriad of other forces and excuses, the hard realities of the criminal justice system are sometimes “a hiccup or a major barrier” for those who are the most vulnerable.

Listen to SHATTERED LIVES with LadyJustice and Michelle Cruz: CLICK HERE

OVA Versus OVS- What’s the Difference?

In a majority of states, victim services are offered through the State’s Attorney’s office.  However, in Connecticut, the direct service providers, including court advocates, are administered through the Judicial Branch of state government.

In contrast, the beauty of the Office of the Victim Advocate is that it is indeed an independent entity…. ‘One that is designed for self–criticism and a watchdog agency looking at how criminal justice is performed.  This agency “is forced to look in the mirror” and change the injustices experienced by crime victims. Although every state has crime victim  statutes and Constitutional rights that are supposed to be upheld and enforced, to date, only13 states have the independent agency whose mission it is, among other mandates, to shine a light on, rectify injustices and enforce victim rights!  Ladyjustice asks why other states are such “shrinking violets” when it comes to this important function.  Perhaps they don’t want to hear it…..  Perhaps they don’t want to put their money where the rhetoric is in the rightful clam that victim rights are and should be a priority in all 50 states.

Ms. Cruz related that the problem is… when a state does not have an independent enforcement agency; victims are forced to go back to the same offending agency- to a supervisor to report lack of follow-up on case, misdeeds or otherwise, concerning a prosecutor or police force that isn’t doing their job. Spinning your wheels……   What is the recourse in the “other 37” states?  Perhaps an independent agency, maybe assistance from an Attorney General or… the hiring of a private attorney who is willing and able to advocate for your needs. However, this appears very hit or miss….

When the OVA receives a call, they begin the process by gathering documents – reviewing pre-arrest or post conviction files. In essence, they critique what has been done in the past and make a plan of correction to facilitate justice…whatever form that may take.  Although subpoena power is not within their purview, the OVA has many other methods of recourse such as… the ability to change state policy, craft and advocate for legislation, and as attorneys, accompany and represent crime victims in court.  In addition, they can do thorough case investigations with follow-up findings and recommendations.

At the Office of the Victim Advocate, the Administrator can create his or her own mission of priorities while enforcing a variety of mandates.  Within the OVA, you need a leader who understands victim’s rights…and really listens to the concerns of victims without lip service. Since 2007, Michelle Cruz is that person.

The Office of Victim Services in Connecticut performs complementary and parallel functions such as:

Specific services offered by OVS Advocates which are very similar to the functions of crime victim advocates in other states include:

OVS court-based victim services advocates help victims of violent crime by notifying them of their rights and by providing information and assistance. OVS victim services advocates are available in many of the courthouses throughout the state.

OVS Victim Services Advocates:

  • Notify victims of their rights
  • Provide information to the victim about the criminal case and criminal justice system
  • Act as a liaison between victims and court personnel
  • Escort victims and their family members to court proceedings
  • Advocate for victims during court proceedings
  • Assist victims with the return of property
  • Provide victims with social service referrals
  • Assist victims in submitting requests for restitution
  • Assist victims and their family members in preparing and delivering a victim impact statement
  • Coordinate victim compensation applications to OVS

OVS Helpline

OVS operates a toll-free helpline to assist callers in obtaining information on OVS programs and services as well as referrals to various agencies that assist victims of crime and their families.

The OVS victim services advocate assigned to the helpline assists victims whose cases are heard in a court that does not have an OVS court-based victim services advocate. Assistance may include informing victims of their rights and of upcoming court dates as well as helping victims understand the criminal justice system.

For more information, please call OVS at 800-822-8428, Monday- Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The Agonized Five The OVA office phones ring often with a promise to callers to respond within 24 hours.  The majority of calls received generally encompass a few areas   According to Ms. Cruz, those who bear the brunt of the worst the criminal justice system has to offer, include crime victims falling into the following categories:

  • Missing Persons and their Families;
  • Cold Cases;
  • Sexual Assault Victims;
  • DV/Intimate Partner Violence Victims;
  • “I Can’t Wait Anymore”

It is this last category that Atty. Cruz speaks with passion. The message is clear…It is vital…and yet, it is unknown to the populace at large!  Her message is that crime victims do not have to and should not wait until their case and hope is “completely flat lined”…unattended, forgotten, cobweb ridden, etc. Do not wait… Do not be afraid to challenge… Make your concerns known.  Demand your rights early on!  Victims should be able to speak to their prosecutor, have their cold case opened, be informed by the police etc.  Do not wait… Enlist help.

Ladyjustice thinks that we are acculturated into being polite citizens, always following the rules, never making waves.  However, when it comes to violent crime, time is not on your side. You must stand up… you must question and learn your rights.  OVA is one answer!

As an example, she quoted a 1963 landmark case in the US Supreme Court Gideon vs. Wainwright to provide counsel in criminal cases for defendants who are unable to afford their own attorneys. Mr. Gideon was charged with breaking and entering and intent to commit petty larceny.  Gideon appeared in court and was too poor to afford counsel, whereupon the following conversation took place:

The COURT: “Mr. Gideon, I am sorry, but I cannot appoint Counsel to represent you in this case. Under the laws of the State of Florida, the only time the Court can appoint Counsel to represent a Defendant is when that person is charged with a capital offense. I am sorry, but I will have to deny your request to appoint Counsel to defend you in this case.

GIDEON: The United States Supreme Court says I am entitled to be represented by Counsel.”

Gideon was forced, therefore, to act as his own counsel and conduct a defense of him in court, emphasizing his innocence in the case. Nevertheless, the jury returned a guilty verdict, sentencing him to serve five years in the state prison.

From his prison cell at Florida State Prison, making use of the prison library and writing in pencil on prison stationery, Gideon appealed to the Supreme Court in a suit against the Secretary to the Florida Department of Corrections, H.G. Cochran (who later retired and was replaced with Louie L. Wainwright). He argued that he had been denied counsel and, therefore, his Sixth Amendment rights, as applied to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, had been violated.

Justice Clark’s concurrent opinion stated that the Constitution never says whether a case is capital and non capital, so legal counsel needs to be provided in all cases. Justice Harlan’s concurrent opinion stated that the mere existence of a serious criminal charge constituted in itself special circumstances requiring the services of counsel at trial.

The bottom line…. Those who are indigent, whether they be accused of a crime, or are the victim of a crime, have just as many legal rights as those who can afford to pay for counsel.

Frequently, by the time OVA becomes involved with missing persons and cold cases, the tragedy may have occurred years prior, but the pain is still palpable.  Janice Smolinski, mother of missing adult son, Billy, has done much to pave the way in Connecticut for the missing and cases gone cold with the introduction of “Billy’s Law.” [LJ – Refer to: https://donnagore.com/2012/02/20/the-hot-potato-case-in-connecticut-missing-billy-smolinski/]   Families in Connecticut no longer have to wait 24 hours to report a missing loved one.

Intimate partner violence initiatives have been many since the arrival of Michelle Cruz and the efforts of other DV Advocates. One example was the offhanded comment by a caller that turned into a positive legislative initiative such that victims of intimate partner violence can no longer be charged with violating their own restraining order or committing “backlash against the victim” since the 2011 legislative session.

Ms. Cruz commented on dual arrest, which historically had been very high in the aftermath of the Tracey Thurman landmark case. The act of self defense was taken into consideration and number of cases of dual arrest were not as high as once thought.  [Connecticut has a mandatory arrest policy in such domestic situations.]

Ms. Cruz teaches at a local law school and discusses this issue with law enforcement…. When it concerns batterers, you may have:

1) Mutual Combat: In which two men are fighting with supposedly equal abilities/strengths.  This would be considered a “good arrest”. However, those that are more troublesome are when,                2) the batterer states. “She pushed me…” or 3) when the victim has obvious defensive wounds and is still arrested.   It is incumbent upon the police to “dig deeper” to get at the truth of the matter.

Molly’s Law- EZ ID: The Molly Bish Foundation, Jay Gardner and inventor Gary Richard, (who appeared on the show “Shark Tank”) began a wonderful initiative to assist in identification of perpetrators in Amber Alerts, hit and run cases, DUI’s etc.  The premise is to alter the current lengthy and confusing series of letters and numbers appearing on most vehicle license plates by replacing them with four alpha-numeric characters and one easily recognized symbol such as a star, heart, circle or diamond.

According to research, children as young as 2.5 can learn symbols a week after seeing it.  Pairing a couple of numbers with a symbol and the color of a car would make cars far more identifiable.  In addition, this system would lend itself to vanity plates and increased revenue such as requesting “Diamond Girl etc.”  When asked about funding, Ms. Cruz commented that everyone panics and tends to name a $12 million figure…  However, if it is rolled out slowly, as people turn in their license plates every 5 to 7 years, the cost would be very reasonable.  This law is predicted to pass in the Massachusetts legislature this year and may be up for consideration next year in Connecticut!  Woo Hoo!  What a fantastic idea!

The Connecticut SAVIN Program … and other States

(Please refer to this helpful link for services offered in other states)

https://www.vinelink.com/vinelink/initMap.do

VINE Service Number: (877) 846-3428

TTY: (866) 847-1298

Connecticut SAVIN Resources

Connecticut Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification

CT SAVIN Service Number: 1-877-VINE-4CT

The Connecticut Judicial Branch provides this toll-free, automated notification service for criminal court related events. CT SAVIN is a free, confidential service that provides crime victims, victim advocates, and other concerned citizens free and confidential notification about a specific criminal court related events.  Following registration it assists victims in monitoring the activities of perpetrators within the prison system and alerts you to any changes in status.

***Michelle Cruz advised that if you are registered with the Department of Correction, you should also register with SAVIN even if your case is “an old case” in order to keep current regarding accurate notification information.

Connecticut SAVIN is operated by the VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) service and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Crime victims and interested individuals may register for notification by telephone or e-mail; hearing and speech impaired individuals may also register by calling 711 for the Telecommunications Relay Service.

In addition to this online tool, the CT SAVIN also offers a free and anonymous telephone service that provides victims of crime with two important features: information and notification. Information is provided 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. VINE Service Representatives are always available to assist callers. This toll-free number is 1-877-VINE-4CT (1-877-846-3428).

To register online – click on the OFFENDERS tab or UPDATE REGISTRATION information in the boxes located in the left margin. Registered users will receive notification by telephone or e-mail with live operator assistance always available to answer your questions.

Parting Comments    

Michelle Cruz brought a wealth of knowledge with her as a former prosecutor from Massachusetts and former resident of California… much brainstorming and investigating regarding what works and does not work, what services neighboring states are using and may be underutilized.  It takes “out of the box thinking” to be effective.

Her charge is to assist victims, and her message is for any of you to call whether it be a question to set you on the right track, to “fix a hiccup” or a major barrier to justice.  All calls are confidential.  If you would like to collaborate as a service provider from another state, call Michelle at the OVA.  Her contact information is: Michelle.Cruz@ct.gov; Office number;  860-550-6632 or www.ct.gov/ova .  She monitors 24/7…. That’s what we crime victim advocates do, in case you haven’t heard!

References: http://www.jud.ct.gov/crimevictim/; https://www.vinelink.com/vinelink/initMap.do;                                                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gideon_v._Wainwright; http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2012/02/new_england_police_chiefs_back.html