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Crime Victim's Right To Be Present

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2002
5 pages
Publication Series
This bulletin provides an overview of State laws addressing the rights of victims to attend criminal justice proceedings, particularly trials and how their presence at these proceedings might affect the rights of defendants.
The right to be present during criminal justice proceedings is a right provided to victims in 39 States. However, many States have imposed restrictions and/or limitations on this right. In this bulletin, these limitations are reviewed, as well as the potential compromises through State statutes that encourage courts to limit the application of sequestration rules. Victims of crime are given the right to be present during criminal proceedings as long as it does not interfere with the rights of the accused and is consistent with the rules of evidence, under Rule 615 of a State's Rules of Evidence. Witnesses are typically sequestered from the criminal trial, except during testimony, to ensure a fair trial. However, State statutes across the country vary in their exemption of victims from the rule of witnesses. In addition, many arguments have been provided to justify the exclusion of victim/witnesses from a trial, such as when a victim has not previously identified the accused, and when a victim while in the courtroom observes the defendant possibly influencing in-court identification. Defense counsel has also argued that the presence of the victim may prejudice the jury and impede a fair trial. Several States have attempted to draft statutes that encourage courts to limit the application of sequestration rules. One of the fundamental rights of crime victims is seen as the right to attend criminal justice proceedings. Even though its practice has been restricted and limited, some statutes and case law suggest that the right can be applied more broadly and not interfere with the rights of the accused. Additional issues addressed include: (1) the victim's right to sit at the counsel table with the prosecutor during the proceedings; (2) when giving all crime victims the right to be present during criminal proceedings, it presents a security risk as incarcerated victims (a crime that took place in a correctional facility) are transported to and from court; and (3) the right of crime victims to have an advocate or support person present during the criminal proceedings.

Date Published: January 1, 2002