EVANSTON — April 7-13 is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and this year’s theme is Honoring Our Past, Creating Hope for the Future. Uinta County Sheriff’s Office victim advocate Leisa Reiter said the theme “celebrates the progress made by those before us as we look to a future of crime victim services that is even more inclusive, accessible and trauma-informed.”
Most people likely recognize the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution to those charged with crimes. However, people may not be aware that in Wyoming, crime victims are afforded 10 specific rights by Wyoming statute.
Those rights include the right to be treated with compassion, respect and sensitivity within the criminal justice system; the right to know the whereabouts of the offender and the current status of the case; the right to receive restitution from offenders; to know all rights under the law, including information about services and victim assistance at the local level.
Other rights include the right to know about victim compensation; the right to reasonable protection and safety and the right to know of legal recourse if threatened; the right to prompt return of property; the right to preservation of employment while participating in the criminal justice process; the right to be informed about the opportunity to make a victim impact statement at sentencing and parole hearings; and the right to be present at trial.
These rights and other valuable information are detailed in the Wyoming Division of Victim Services’ Wyoming Crime Victim Handbook. The handbook explains services available to crime victims through service providers in every county throughout the state. In Uinta County victim advocates are Reiter with the sheriff’s office, Vanessa Weekly with the Evanston Police Department and Maria Oroz at the Uinta County Attorney’s Office. Victims can also receive assistance through staff at the Sexual Assault and Family Violence Task Force, including director Angie Fessler and advocates Jesse Barnes and Kelly Ivers.
Victim assistance includes a broad spectrum of services, including counseling; emergency help with housing, clothing, food transportation and medical care; assistance with applying for victim compensation; explanations of the criminal justice process; providing support through the court process and/or medical exams and interviews; and many other services.
The handbook goes into detail to explain the steps in the criminal justice process, including initial appearances, preliminary hearings, arraignments, pretrial conferences, other hearing types, trials and sentencing hearings. There is also an explanation of the Wyoming Victim Notification Program, which allows victims to register to receive information about offenders, including court dates and inmate release dates. Once registered, the automated system provides information to victims 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
The services provided and work done by victim advocates and others who work with victims is an important component of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which exists to raise awareness of victim’s rights and services, highlight local programs, and honor both victims and the professionals that serve them.