Proper role of victims in the criminal justice system

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The criminal justice system is meant to dispense due process for criminals and victims.  It is a dynamic and complex system which primarily includes legislation and policies including jurisprudence.  This victim and the perpetrator are part of the criminal justice system and they all play roles and are attributed with rights within the system.  Their roles help ensure that the criminal justice system would work well for both parties in the interest of social justice.  This paper shall focus on the proper role of the victims in the criminal justice system, mostly focusing on the benefits of victim violence in the system, the possible challenges associated with victim involvement in the justice system.  This paper will also discuss possible policies or strategies which can improve benefits for victim involvement for various parties and how such challenges can be minimized or addressed.

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Main Body

The victim’s role in the criminal justice system is primarily to file the case as a complainant and to give testimony before the courts against a named offender.  In the process, it is also incumbent upon the victim to provide the evidence related to the case (Malsch, 2017).  Being the victim in the criminal case can be overwhelming and intimidating, and the victim needs to be aware of what he/she can expect during the criminal justice proceedings.  The role of the victim is also to be informed about his/her rights as well as the choices he/she has to make in relation to said rights (Malsch, 2017).  The victim also needs to be informed and guided in order to help ensure his/her safety.  For instance, where the victim is harassed or stalked by the offender in the course of the criminal procedures, the victim’s role is to immediately inform the authorities about the violations.  In instances where the offender is imprisoned, it is the victim’s role and right to be informed about the release or escape of such offender, including possible parole hearings (The National Center for Victims of Crimes, 2012).

Victims and survivors are also considered architects of reform efforts for the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (Jenkins and Seymour, 2015).  The justice system would not work as well and in fact would function poorly if victims do not report crimes, or do not serve as witnesses (Jenkins & Seymour, 2015).  The system would also not work well if these victims would not help society understand the devastating impact of the crime on their lives, on their families, and on their community (Van Ness & Strong, 2014).  The role of victims in the criminal justice system is to provide a personal lens into criminality, revealing their trials, their feelings, their needs, and making suggestions on how victim services and support can be improved (Van Ness & Strong, 2014).  Victims were at one point in the past considered an afterthought in the criminal justice system, however, they are now considered partners in the criminal justice system (Jenkins & Seymour, 2015).  These victims represent individuals who can best provide an opinion about the proper penalty or retribution which can be imposed on criminals.  In other words, they can help develop means by which the balance of justice between criminal and victim can be secured (Neubauer & Fradella, 2015).

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Crime victims during the process of prosecuting offenses are the primary sources of information about the crime with the prosecutors possibly making the case about the use of the victim information (Walklate, 2013).  The role of the victims is also to assert their interests, especially with the prosecutor trying the case (Walklate, 2013).  Where the victim feels that there is a separation between him and the prosecutor, it would be incumbent upon him to reject such separation because it would be counterproductive to the dispensation of justice (Jenkins & Seymour, 2015).

The victim has a role to play in numerous stages of the criminal justice system (Schmalleger, et al., 2014).  From the very start, and before the trial, it is the role of the victim to report the crime to the police, narrate the details, and take part in identifying the perpetrator (Davis, Kunreuther, & Connick, 1984).  During the trial, when the perpetrator is apprehended, his/her role is to testify and to aid the prosecutor in presenting the case to the court.  Following the conviction of the perpetrator, the victim’s role is to make an impact statement in order to aid the judge/jury in coming up with a proper and justiciable sentence or penalty in relation to the offense he/she is convicted for (Murphy & Barkworth, 2014).

The role of the victims in the criminal justice system is also to cooperate with the authorities.  Without their cooperation, the law enforcement officials would have a difficult time resolving the case (Nahra, 1999).  In instances where there is no cooperation from the victim, criminals can commit acts with impunity and the law enforcement officials would be prompted to divert their resources away from more onerous and higher priority crimes (Dawson & Dinovitzer, 2001; Nahra, 1999).  This diversion can unfortunately undermine safety and sound public policy (Nahra, 1999).  Victim participation is therefore a crucial aspect of enforcing the law and it is also important that these victims would voluntarily make themselves a part of the criminal justice system (Dawson & Dinovitzer, 2001).  “The willingness of victims to come forward is vital to the successful prosecution of criminals.  Without this assistance in reporting crime, more crimes will go unpunished, as the criminal justice system is absolutely dependent on victim cooperation” (Nahra, 1999, p.8).

Admittedly, victims may sometimes feel even more victimized by the criminal justice system.  This is often the case in crimes such as rape, harassment, or even robbery or theft (Goodman, Bennett, & Dutton, 1999).  The trial can also be a major cause of stress and anxiety for these victims as they may be subjected to character assassination by the defense lawyers. The reluctance for victims to be a willing participant to the criminal justice system may therefore be understandable (Goldstein, 1982).  Nevertheless, the role of the victims in the system is still very much important because the full measure of justice cannot be dispensed with without their cooperation and testimony (Fattah, 2016).  The role therefore of victims under these conditions would be to lobby for better policies related to victim protection and cooperation (Skogan, 1984).  These victims are the considered the best advocates of reform in the criminal justice system especially in terms of how conditions within the system can be implemented better (Fattah, 2016).  These victims can lobby legislators to pass laws relating to better victim protection under the laws.  These victims can also align their advocacies with other victims in order to improve the impact of their agenda and objectives across multiple media (Fattah, 2016).

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The role of the victims in the criminal justice system is to primarily report the crime to the authorities. This initial report would initiate the dispensation of justice and no justice can be gained where the victim would refuse or fail to report the crime.  During the trial, the victim’s role is to give testimony about the offense and to assist the prosecution in presenting the case to the court.  Following the conviction of the offender, the victim’s role is to make an impact statement in order to help the judge in determining a proper sentence or penalty for the offender.  The victim’s role in the criminal justice system is also to cooperate with the authorities in order to successfully investigate the crime and to gather evidence against the perpetrator.  Without the victim’s cooperation, the dispensation of justice would be difficult and sometimes be denied.  The victim’s role is also to assist in developing advocacies to help improve victim treatment and to help promote victim welfare.  This would translate to an active participation in lobbying legislators for reforms in the criminal justice system.  These advocacies ultimately help ensure and promote the dispensation of justice for the victim and for society in general.

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  1. Davis, R. C., Kunreuther, F., & Connick, E. (1984). Expanding the victim’s role in the criminal court dispositional process: The results of an experiment. The Journal of Criminal Law     and Criminology (1973-)75(2), 491-505.
  2. Dawson, M., & Dinovitzer, R. (2001). Victim cooperation and the prosecution of domestic violence in a specialized court. Justice Quarterly18(3), 593-622.
  3. Fattah, E. A. (Ed.). (2016). From crime policy to victim policy: Reorienting the justice system.  New York: Springer.
  4. Goldstein, A. S. (1982). Defining the role of the victim in criminal prosecution. Miss. LJ52, 515.
  5. Goodman, L., Bennett, L., & Dutton, M. A. (1999). Obstacles to victims’ cooperation with the  criminal prosecution of their abusers: The role of social support. Violence and victims14(4), 427.
  6. Jenkins, M. & Seymour, A. (2015). Less crime, fewer victims through Justice Reinvestment Initiatives. The Hill.
  7. Malsch, M. (2017). Crime, victims and justice: essays on principles and practice. New York: Routledge.
  8. Murphy, K., & Barkworth, J. (2014). Victim willingness to report crime to police: Does procedural justice or outcome matter most?. Victims & Offenders9(2), 178-204.
  9. Nahra, K. J. (1999). The Role of Victims in Criminal Investigations and Prosecutions.
  10. National Center for Victims of Crime (2012). The Criminal Justice System.
  11. Neubauer, D. W., & Fradella, H. F. (2015). America’s courts and the criminal justice system.  New York: Cengage Learning.
  12. Schmalleger, F., Donaldson, S., Kashiwahara, K., Koppal, T., Chase, S., Brown, A., … & Marash, D. (2014). Criminal justice today. New York: Prentice Hall.
  13. Skogan, W. G. (1984). Reporting crimes to the police: The status of world research. Journal of research in crime and delinquency21(2), 113-137.
  14. Van Ness, D. W., & Strong, K. H. (2014). Restoring justice: An introduction to restorative justice. New York: Routledge.
  15. Walklate, S. (2013). Victimology (Routledge Revivals): The Victim and the Criminal Justice Process. New York: Routledge.
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