OVC ArchiveOVC
This file is provided for reference purposes only. It was current when produced, but is no longer maintained and may now be outdated. Please select www.ovc.gov to access current information.

horizontal line break

Chapter 2 The Criminal Justice System Continuum

Section 3, Case Study: The Criminal Justice System Continuum


Although a thorough review of history would reveal that victims have long played a major role in the administration of justice, recent history and practice have served to systematically exclude the victim from the justice process. In fact, the "criminal" justice system has only recently begun to establish rights and enhanced treatment for crime victims. This module will present a hypothetical crime scenario presented to a panel of justice system representatives and serve as a vehicle to walk through the "victim justice system." This examination will demonstrate the existing rights of victims and those circumstances under which additional rights can and should be implemented.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this section, students will understand the following concepts:

  • The contrast between the treatment of offenders and the treatment of victims by the justice system.

  • How a case proceeds through the continuum of the federal, criminal, and juvenile justice systems from arrest through incarceration/detention or community supervision.

  • The roles and responsibilities of key players in the justice process--law enforcement, prosecution, judiciary, probation, corrections, parole, and victim services.

  • The critical differences among the federal, criminal, and juvenile justice systems at each stage of the justice continuum, and the challenges to providing victims' rights and services when a case crosses jurisdictional boundaries.


The American system of justice provides many safeguards to protect the rights of the accused and to ensure the humane treatment of those convicted of crimes. In its institutionalized zeal to protect the rights of alleged and convicted perpetrators, this "criminal" justice system has evolved in a manner that typically does not extend equal rights or protections to the victims of crime. In fact, many victims describe their exposure to the federal, criminal, and juvenile justice systems as a "secondary victimization" inflicted upon them by the agents and practices of those systems.

In order to gain a better understanding of the contrast between the treatment of victims and offenders in the justice system, it is important to review the provisions of that system and the treatment offered to both parties. The following is an analysis and comparison of the justice system's response to offenders and victims.

Treatment of Offenders

In contrast to the victim, the offender makes a cognizant choice to commit a crime or delinquent act against an individual. Most offenders are not arrested, and those who are apprehended are afforded constitutionally protected rights immediately upon their arrest. Offenders must be informed of their rights immediately. If injured, medical attention must be given to them at the earliest opportunity. Offenders are arraigned within specific time periods, and their cases are reviewed for legal findings to ensure that their arrest was legal and that their pre-trial incarceration is warranted. Many offenders are released on their own recognizance or released on bail. In addition, the following accommodations are made to the offender:

  • Food, adequate housing, access to a law library, and medical services are provided to incarcerated offenders.

  • Indigent offenders are provided with the services of court appointed attorneys.

  • Legal provisions provide opportunities for charge reductions or plea bargaining, often without the input of the victim.

  • Offenders can waive time for court proceedings or request that the court consider moving the case to a different jurisdiction.

  • Various legal provisions and court rulings provide the defendant/offender with myriad protections and opportunities for motions to suppress evidence or dismiss charges.

  • Convicted offenders also have the right to appeal their convictions through any number of legal proceedings that can continue for years.

If convicted or adjudicated, defendants or alleged juvenile offenders are afforded a variety of punishment options, with the majority of convicted offenders receiving sentences of probation. Opportunities for job training, education, or some treatment programs are provided to many offenders at full expense to the taxpayers. Due to prison overcrowding, some prisoners are eligible to earn "good time" credits, which serve to reduce their sentences, while others become eligible for early release. Many participate in rehabilitative programs to assist them in the restoration of their lives. Finally, upon release, offenders on parole are given assistance in obtaining jobs, places to live, and additional support services.

Treatment of Victims

Conversely, the victim has no choice in whether or not they become a crime victim. Victims who incur medical expenses as a result of injuries sustained due to crime are generally required to pay those expenses:

  • For those who do have insurance, many are required to pay deductibles or uncovered expenses. Increases in premiums following claims resulting from crimes are common.

  • Additionally, many victims are in need of psychological counseling that is frequently not covered by medical insurance.

  • Similarly, those who suffer property loss must assume full responsibility for the replacement of all items lost or destroyed and suffer the irrevocable losses of sentimental items that can never be replaced.

  • The economic impact of crime upon victims also includes any losses suffered from brief or extended periods of time in which they are unable to work or are absent due to their need to participate in justice processes.

  • Victim compensation programs are seldom able to cover all of a victim's financial losses. Most non-violent crime victims are not even eligible for victim compensation.

Victims in some jurisdictions still have difficulty obtaining information about the progress of their case. In efforts to protect the rights of the offender, victims can be excluded from obtaining select information about the investigation, arrest, prosecution, or incarceration of the offender. Victims often are inconvenienced by the frequent continuances and legal maneuvering of the court process:

  • Many victims are required to give numerous statements regarding the circumstances of the offense as they venture through the federal, criminal, and juvenile justice systems.

  • Often, victims are excluded from participation or consultation regarding any plea bargain or diversion agreements.

  • With the exception of one state, victims are not entitled to legal representation and are only served by the representation of the prosecuting attorney who, in reality, acts "on behalf of the state."

  • The victim has no right to make motions or introduce evidence, protest the suppression of evidence, or appeal any rulings or dispositions arrived at by the court.

  • Provisions that guarantee "speedy" proceedings do not apply to victims.

In some cases, victims are never notified of the disposition of the case, nor are they afforded an opportunity to provide input into the sentencing process. Most victims do not have any right to mandatory restitution or reimbursement for financial losses incurred as a result of the crime. Many victims are subject to continued harassment and intimidation from the offender without consistent, meaningful efforts to protect them from harm.

If the offender is incarcerated or sent to a juvenile detention institution, some victims have no access to information about the offender or opportunities for input into the parole process. Victims receive no "time off" for good behavior, nor does the state afford them comprehensive opportunities for rehabilitation or reconstruction from the impact of the crime upon their lives.

Perhaps most significant, many victims experience a loss of faith and belief in the efficacy and inherent justice they previously thought existed as a part of this country's well regarded justice system.

Jurisdictional Issues

In cases that cross jurisdiction among federal, criminal, and juvenile authorities--and/or cross geographical jurisdictional boundaries--the provision of victims' rights and services becomes increasingly complex:

  • There may be considerable confusion as to which jurisdiction has the authority to determine the application of victims' rights in a particular case.

  • Lack of coordination and integrated management information systems can result in critical victim data that are lost, as well as confusion about agency responsibility for addressing victims' rights and concerns.

  • Victims often discover difficulty in accessing information about their cases and/or supportive services because they do not know whom they should contact for information and referrals.

Panel Discussion

In order to further demonstrate both the changes made in support of extending rights to victims and the remaining inequities that exist within the justice system, it is beneficial to review a hypothetical case as it progresses throughout that system.

Toward that end, this session has been developed to provide Academy students with an opportunity to observe a panel of justice experts representing the various segments of the federal, criminal, and juvenile justice systems as they are presented with the facts of the hypothetical case.

The panel will include representatives from the following perspectives of the federal, criminal, and/or juvenile justice systems:

  • Law enforcement.

  • Victim/witness services.

  • Prosecution.

  • Judiciary.

  • Community corrections.

  • Institution corrections/youth detention.

  • Parole/aftercare.

During this presentation, each panelist will be provided with increasing amounts of information as the case progresses through each juncture of the justice system. At each juncture, panelists will be asked to respond to questions regarding the victim's right to participate in or obtain information or services from the justice systems, especially as the case crosses jurisdictional boundaries.

Throughout the panel, and upon completion of the presentation and discussion by panel members, students will be given the opportunity to ask questions and request explanations regarding the responses of panelists. This interactive process will serve to examine the full continuum of the "victim justice system."

Hypothetical Case

Betsy, age 13, is a typical teenager from a small town in Ohio. She loves to talk on the phone with her friends, go to the mall, and has been really excited about the recent acquisition of a home computer. She has found friends on the Internet from all around the country.

Meanwhile, her parents (both computer-illiterate) heard from their neighbor that they should purchase some sort of a "computer chip" that can limit Internet access, but they haven't had time to run down to Computer World and buy one. Betsy had been spending a lot of time on the computer, but her parents thought she was doing research for her homework assignments.

In reality, Betsy was e-chatting with Vince (age 22) and his brother Charles (age 14). Vince is a really sweet talker and suggests that Betsy meet the two of them at a local restaurant in the next town-right over the state line. So Betsy used her babysitting money to purchase a Greyhound bus ticket, and off she went secretly to Kentucky, not even telling her best friend, Susan.

Vince and Charles were fun at first. They treated her to lunch, took her to the mall, then went swimming at the lake. After that, Betsy assumed they were going to take her home, but shortly after crossing the state border back into Ohio, Vince pulled into the Resthaven Motel. Betsy, Vince, and Charles shared a couple of beers, and that was the last thing Betsy remembers--it seems that Vince slipped a Rophynol into her drink. She wakes up bleeding, and notices the burn marks on her wrists where they had physically tied her down.

Betsy stumbles down the street into the local police department, and they call her parents. The police department is a two-person operation without a victim/witness advocate.

Betsy was able to identify the suspects. Law enforcement back in her home town took her computer and confirmed Betsy's ongoing e-mail correspondence with Vince. Both Vince and Charles were arrested in Kentucky.

Vince has a long record of larcenies, physical assaults, and third-degree sexual assault. He is well known to the law enforcement community and is currently on probation (which was revoked upon his arrest). Charles's record, on the other hand, appears to be clean (although police in Kentucky discovered Charles's involvement in two home burglary cases that were diverted, with Charles successfully completing the terms of diversion).

1. What are Betsy's immediate needs? Her parents' immediate needs?

2. Whom should local law enforcement contact for victim assistance and services?

3. What laws have been broken? What charges can be brought against Vince and Charles:

  • Juvenile?

  • State/criminal?

  • Federal?

4. Who is responsible for coordinating this case among the involved jurisdictions (including the provision of supportive services for the victims)?

5. Who is responsible for informing the victim(s) of their rights?

6. Since Vince's parole is revoked, are the victims of the crimes that resulted in his incarceration and parole entitled to be notified of his revocation?

7. What is the likelihood that the victim(s) will find out about Charles's record with the juvenile justice system?

Betsy is scared to death, because Vince's and Charles's father is not happy that his sons are being detained. She has received several threatening calls, which were intercepted by her parents. Vince is in jail, and Charles was released from youth detention after twenty-four hours.

1. Are there any measures of protection available to Betsy and her parents? From which jurisdiction(s): local, state, juvenile, federal?

2. Betsy and her family are clearly traumatized. What type of mental health services are available for them?

3. Betsy's parents' marriage is suffering. They blame each other for not buying the computer blocking program or monitoring Betsy's Internet activities more closely. Are victim assistance services available for them?

(Based upon the possible charges listed above)

Betsy is terrified to see Vince and Charles face-to-face in justice proceedings.

1. Do Betsy and her family have the right to participate at all criminal and juvenile justice proceedings relevant to their case? Will they have to testify at all the proceedings?

2. The laboratory reports relevant to the Rophynol and sexual assault examination are key evidence in both cases. How long is it going to take to get the lab reports? Is this an issue of concern?

The defense attorneys in the different adult/juvenile justice proceedings argue that Betsy willingly went along with the drinking and that it was her idea to go to a motel. They say she chose to talk to Vince on the Internet, and she bought the bus ticket to Kentucky with her own money. They also intend to subpoena her therapist, Dr. Jones, for her treatment records and probably will ask her to testify.

1. Will the judges in any proceedings be compelled to allow this line of defense questioning?

2. Are there any laws that protect Betsy from this type of defense or that protect the confidentiality of her therapy sessions?

3. What are the victims' roles and rights during the court proceedings?

Vince goes to trial where he is found guilty. Charles is adjudicated in juvenile court, which results in a finding of guilt.

1. Can Betsy and her parents submit a victim impact statement? At which point in the proceedings will their input be elicited, and in what format (i.e., oral, written, etc.):

  • Federal?

  • Criminal?

  • Juvenile?

Vince is incarcerated in Leavenworth, and Charles is sent to an Ohio youth detention center under the Department of Youth Services.

1. Is there any information that the Federal Bureau of Prisons and/or the Department of Youth Services provides to victims?

2. Do Betsy and her parents have a right to be notified about the status of the offenders and/or any proceedings related to the possible release of Vince or Charles?

3. If Betsy is intimidated or harassed by Vince, Charles, or their father, does she have any rights?

4. If Vince or Charles eventually end up under parole/aftercare supervision, do Betsy and her parents have any involvement or rights?

Are there any other issues related to these cases, and/or related victims' rights?

Previous Contents Next

Chapter 2 The Criminal Justice System Continuum June 2001
Archive iconThe information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.