Chapter 2 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.
Upon completion of this section, students will understand the following concepts:
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.
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
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.
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:
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:
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
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
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
The panel will include representatives from the following perspectives of the federal, criminal,
and/or juvenile justice systems:
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
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."
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,
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:
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
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
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.):
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
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?
Back to NVAA 1999