Posted Tuesday, April 4th, 2017
Stresses Importance of Crime Victims’ Rights
Morris County commemorated National Crime Victims’ Rights Week this week with a ceremony hosted by Prosecutor Fredric Knapp, keynoted by Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, and featuring comments by Assemblyman Anthony Bucco and Freeholder Tom Mastrangelo.
Knapp began the hour-long event in Morristown by reminding the audience that what are now known as victims’ rights did not exist in the criminal justice system prior to the 1980s. At that time, relatives of victims were normally kept out of the courtroom unless they were appearing as witnesses. Many times they were often denied a chance to speak at sentencing.
That began to change in 1981 when National Crime Victims’ Rights Week was commemorated for the first time. Shortly thereafter, victims’ rights in New Jersey were supported by voters after a campaign spearheaded by the late James O’Brien, a former Morris County freeholder from Mendham Township and the father of a murder victim.
Voters’ supported a constitutional amendment mandating that crime victims “shall be treated with fairness, compassion and respect by the criminal justice system,” and that a victim of a crime shall not be denied the right to be present at public judicial proceedings except when sequestered prior to completing testimony. The amendment ended victims’ status as afterthoughts in the criminal justice system.
As Knapp put it, “Victims of crime rightfully deserve due attention from our trained professionals as they navigate through the criminal justice system, and dedicated members of the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office’s Victim Witness Unit play an integral role during this process. With unwavering compassion, they serve as true advocates in addressing all crime victims’ needs in Morris County.
“To victims and survivors of crime, justice simply means that they are treated with respect—that they are listened to and actually heard—and that they will have a voice in vital decisions that are made related to their cases, as well as to their lives,” said Freeholder Mastrangelo.
“We should all be very proud of the fact that here in Morris County, those who work on behalf of crime victims have been doing all of those things long before the Crime Victims Bill of Rights became part of the New Jersey constitution in 1991.”
One of those speaking Monday was Laurie Parks, whose daughter was murdered in 2005. Parks said that she was adrift after her daughter’s murder and that the prosecutor’s Victim Witness Unit helped her persevere.
Knapp applauded the work of the Victim Witness Unit, saying that they serve as advocates for the needs of all victims.
Guadagno, a former federal prosecutor and Monmouth County sheriff, stressed the importance of Crime Victims’ Rights Week, but said victims need advocates every day. She also pointed out New Jersey’s commitment to the rights of victims, noting that crime victims’ rights are enshrined in the New Jersey Constitution.
Crime victims must be respected every day, she said, a point driven home by Monday’s ceremony and Crime Victims’ Rights Week.