Lottery funds support crime victims’ rights efforts

For the past 35 years, the Arizona Lottery has been a consistent contributor to Arizona’s nonprofit agencies who serve those in need. In fiscal year 2015 alone more than $170 million was given back to the state in categories like economic development, education, health and human services, among others. The lottery also serves and supports one group that might be easy to overlook - crime victims whose rights have been violated without their say.

With the drafting of Arizona’s Victims’ Bill of Rights in the early 1990s, protections were more clearly defined for how crime victims should be treated while navigating the justice system. Some of these protections seem obvious, including the right to be “free from intimidation, harassment or abuse” or needing to be informed when an accused or convicted person is released from custody. Sadly, many of these rights are violated every year and many victims are not aware of what recourse or remedies are available to them.

That’s where the Arizona Voice for Crime Victims (AVCV) often steps in. The agency, which receives a generous annual contribution from the Arizona Lottery, was established in 1996 and is now housed in ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. It offers pro bono legal representation and social services to hundreds of crime victims each year.

Support and reach

Arizona Lottery contributes to the state’s Victims’ Rights Fund, which receives approximately $100,000 a year in financial support from the Arizona Lottery. Overseen by Arizona’s Department of Public Safety (DPS), the fund benefits AVCV and its community partners, who work together with others to assert and enforce victims’ rights.

“It’s great to be able to assist them. … It’s a small way for us to give back to the community,” said DPS spokesperson, Bart Graves.

AVCV currently represents approximately 80 victims, says Colleen Clase, the organization’s senior attorney. The clinic has three full time attorneys, two staff attorneys, two full-time social workers, one legal assistant and a grant manager. ASU law students also have the opportunity to volunteer at the clinic.

“We represent any victim of any type of crime,” Clase said, while adding that most cases involve homicides or sexual assaults.

In Arizona, if a child is killed, the parents and grandparents are also considered victims, and those victims may unknowingly encounter numerous rights violations while trying to make sense of the legal process. Many clients are referred to AVCV by the Maricopa County Attorney’s office and the state’s Attorney General’s office and other referring agencies like the Valley of the Sun Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children (POMC).

“Some victims come to us and there are glaring victim’s rights violations. … Then sometimes, when referred, there may not be a violation at all,” Clase added. In the latter case, AVCV is then tasked with helping guide the victim through the legal process while assuring rights are not violated along the way. “We are truly helping people who didn’t ask to be part of the criminal justice system.”

Some common violations

Sometimes, a defendant’s attorney requests personal records from a victim, resulting in a somewhat commonly seen victim rights violation, Clase explained. The victim has the constitutional right to refuse the discovery request, but may not be aware of that. AVCV can step in to prevent the victim’s private, and sometimes privileged, information from being disclosed and unnecessarily becoming part of a criminal case.

In other cases, plea hearings, which a victim has the right to attend and be heard, may sometimes proceed without informing the victim. Clase has seen entire plea hearings re-administered when her group stepped in.

Another common violation comes with parents asserting rights on behalf of a minor. They have the right to refuse a defense interview on behalf of the child but may not know that until they consult with an attorney or AVCV.

Partners for victims’ rights

AVCV partners with The National Crime Victim Law Institute (NCVLI), Parents of Murdered Children - Valley of the Sun Chapter (POMC-VOSC), Never Again Foundation (NAF), Arizona Crime Victims Rights Law Group (ACVRLG) and The Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (ACESDV). These partnerships have helped to increase victim legal representation but have also taken cases and other matters to Arizona's appellate courts and even the state’s Supreme Court, if needed, to further define and protect victims’ constitutional and statutory rights.

“The purpose of partnership is to collaborate on victims’ rights issues (while maintaining a duty of confidentiality to our clients) for the purpose of preventing violations and/or securing remedies, to work together to provide pro bono legal and social services to more victims across Arizona,” Clase added.

To learn more about how the Arizona Lottery supports valuable state agencies and contributes to the Arizona economy, visit the Arizona Lottery’s website.

Members of the editorial and news staff of The Arizona Republic were not involved in the creation of this content.

http://www.azcentral.com/story/sponsor-story/arizona-lottery/2016/10/24/arizona-lottery-funds-support-crime-victims-efforts/92701784/




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