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Coalition pushes for crime victim advocates and attorneys

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — For victims of crimes, the court system can be overwhelming. That’s why an Indianapolis based non-profit is working to make sure their rights are protected.

When someone commits a crime against a person, that victim isn’t legally represented in the case. They’re typically labeled as a witness.

“So, while they are not a party in the case, they absolutely have a right to assert their rights, and they can’t really assert their rights in criminal court without the use of an attorney,” said Lael Hill, the President and Founder, Indiana Coalition for Crime Victims Rights.

The group is recruiting volunteer attorneys and encouraging counties to adopt what’s known as a victim advocate program.

“Our organization, the Indiana Coalition for Crime Victims Rights is willing to come into any county in Indiana and meet with the prosecutor and give them resources and coaching on how to talk to town counsel and local officials on advocating for that funding to be able to hire a victim advocate,” said Hill.

The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office said it adopted a victim advocate position in the 1980s. Since then, it has grown to 12 advocates serving about 4,000 victims each year. It said advocates have the important role of helping victims navigate the judicial process during their criminal case and access needed resources.

“So, the right that we mostly see that victims want to exercise and assert is the right to be heard,” said Hill. “And that is usually when you see the right being exercised through what’s called a victim impact statement.”

An impact statement is when the victim can explain to the court how this crime affected them physically, emotionally and make a sentencing recommendation.

But sometimes, a miscommunication causes the victim to not be able to make that statement to the court

The coalition said prosecutors don’t do this intentionally.

“They are overworked and they have a large caseload so, a lot of times these rights violations happen from having limited resources within their office and not employing a victim advocate,” said Hill.

Families First Indiana is another group willing to help with this effort.

“I think it’s great that we are having more conversations about what this looks like in regard to how to enforce and how to report if any of their rights have been violated,” said Aly Austin, a Survivor Advocate for Families First Indiana.

The Coalition would also like to create a universal information card that police will give to victims to inform them of their rights.

Some police departments already do this, but the coalition would like the state to mandate it and make sure the information is updated.

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