The Victim Rights Act (VRA) in Colorado – C.R.S. 24-4.1-302.5
Most people would agree that the victims of crimes, or at least of certain kinds of crimes, should have a voice in how that crime is prosecuted. That is why the Colorado voters passed a resolution in November 1992 intended to make Victim Rights a part of our state’s Constitution and its own law. The Victim Rights Act (VRA) took effect in 1993, as a result of a push in the legislature to make sure that victims had a voice in the criminal justice system. At its core, the VRA concerns the statutory right of a victim to be heard at and informed of all essential proceedings in the case. Prior to 1993, a victim had no right to be heard in the case, which was frustrating for many people, victims and prosecutors alike.
Section 16A of Article II of the Colorado Constitution states that:
Any person who is a victim of a criminal act or such person’s designee, legal guardian, or surviving immediate family members if such person is deceased, shall have the right to be:
- Heard when relevant,
- Informed and
- Present at all critical stages of the criminal justice system.
The underpinnings of the VRA stem from the fact that when laws are violated, there are often victims – which is why we, as a society, have laws in the first place. Generally speaking, we don’t want individuals in our community paying a price for the illegal conduct of others, intentional or unintentional. With that said, different law violations affect people in different ways and to different degrees. In the case of murder, it is quite easy to determine who the victim is: the surviving immediate family members of the decedent. In a case where someone is speeding in their car or driving around town without proper vehicle insurance, it is much more difficult to determine if there is a victim and who that might be.
The VRA guarantees certain rights to the victims of the following criminal acts, among others:
- Assault – 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree
- Sexual Assault
- Child Abuse
- Stalking; Tampering with a Victim;
- Violation of a Protection Order;
- Domestic Violence;
- Crimes of Violence; and
- Several other crimes.
A critically important aspect of the Victim Rights Act is that not all government agencies have automatic obligations under the VRA. That’s to say, certain agencies do not have to comply automatically with the VRA in the way that other agencies are required. For example, law enforcement agencies, District Attorneys, Judges/Courts, and the Division of Youth Services are entities that must automatically comply with the VRA whereas local jail facilities, probation departments, the Department of Corrections and the State Hospital are not automatically required to comply with the VRA.
Another important thing to keep in mind, as either a victim or a defendant, is that the VRA and the correlating provision in Section 16A of the Colorado Constitution do guarantee certain rights to the victim, including the right to provide their input as to how the case is to be resolved. With that said, the final choice on how to proceed with the prosecution of the case does not lie with the victim but rather remains in the discretion of the prosecuting agency. To simplify, the prosecution is required to hear the victim’s words but not to agree with their position or take the victim’s requested actions. In the criminal defense realm, we often see victims in cases ask the prosecution to dismiss a case. While the prosecution is required to listen to that request, they are not obligated to follow through on the victim’s request.
If you are charged with an offense that is covered by the VRA, you should consult with an experienced attorney today. Our attorneys have experience navigating the VRA and VRA offenses, and we would be happy to provide you with a free consultation. Please contact our Denver defense attorneys today so we can start defending you in your case.