Recently, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that a criminal defense lawyer could refer to an injured party in a criminal case as an “alleged” victim rather than a victim during the trial of the lawyer’s client.
What is the difference between victim and alleged victims?
The difference between victim and alleged victim matters because of a conflict between the Arizona Constitution’s Victim’s Bill of Rights section and the Defendant’s Arizona and Federal Constitutional right to be presumed innocent.
The Victim’s Rights section states that a victim is: “a person against whom the criminal offense has been committed or, if the person is killed or incapacitated, the person’s spouse, parent, child or other lawful representatives, except if the person is in custody for an offense or is the accused.” Arizona Constitution, Article 2, Section 2.1(B).
The Arizona and US Constitution require that to be convicted of a crime, an accused person must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Inherent in this is that a victim is proven to be the person against whom the accused committed the crime.
How do you know that you are a victim?
There are various situations where a criminal offense is committed against a person, but it can be hard to tell what actions make you a victim of a criminal offense. Arizona courts have held that victim’s rights apply beginning at the time someone is charged with a crime. This does not make all the rights of a victim apply at that time.
What is an “alleged” victim?
The “victim” in the Appeals Court case asserted that to refer to that person as an “alleged victim” did not treat them with “fairness, respect, and dignity, and to be free from intimidation, harassment, or abuse” as required by the Victims Bill of Rights. This is because calling the victim “alleged” suggests that no crime occurred or that they are not the person against whom it occurred, thereby bringing their credibility into question. There are many examples of convictions where crimes did not occur, such as the “shaken baby syndrome” cases in which innocent people were punished where no crime occurred.
What does it mean to be accused?
A person accused of committing a crime is presumed innocent, unless and until a jury finds that they are guilty of committing that crime. A crime is generally committed against a person or entity. Therefore, if a person or entity is a “victim” rather than “alleged victim,” the system has apparently concluded that 1) a crime has occurred and 2) that it was committed against this person or entity. These are elements or building blocks, each of which the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt, before it can exact punishment of the person accused.
It is important to remember that in our justice system the accused cannot be punished by the government until they are convicted of a crime. “Innocent until Proven guilty.” A conviction is what allows the government to penalize the accused. We want to make sure that jury is swayed by only the facts of the case presented to them. While victim’s rights are important, the right to a fair trial is more important.
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