Victim / Witness Unit

As A Crime Victim / Witness You Have Rights

CONSTITUTION OF THE STATE OF FLORIDA, ARTICLE 1, SECTION 16(B) – VICTIM RIGHTS

Victims of crime or their lawful representatives, including the next of kin of homicide victims, are entitled to the right to be informed, to be present, and to be heard when relevant, at all crucial stages of criminal proceedings, to the extent that these rights do not interfere with the constitutional rights of the accused.

If you are the victim of a crime you have the RIGHT:

  1. To be informed of local victim treatment programs.
  2. To be informed, present and heard at all crucial stages of the criminal or juvenile justice proceedings and to be told how to participate in these proceedings.
  3. To be informed about the availability of Victim Compensation.
  4. To be protected from intimidation.
  5. To submit a victim impact statement.
  6. To seek restitution from the offender.
  7. To be notified of scheduling changes.
  8. To be informed of a confidential communication.
  9. In the case of incarcerated victims, the right to be informed and to submit written statements at all crucial stages of the criminal proceedings, parole proceedings or juvenile proceedings.
  10. To a prompt and timely disposition.
  11. To be consulted by the State Attorney’s Office on certain felony cases.
  12. To be notified upon escape of the offender from state correctional facility by the State Attorney.
  13. To request a victim advocate to attend depositions with the victim.
  14. To be notified in advance if possible of release of offender.
  15. To be notified of arrest of accused.
  16. To be informed regarding victim’s rights to review certain portions of a pre-sentence investigation prior to the sentencing of the accused.
  17. To be informed of victim’s rights of standing, through the State Attorney’s Office, with the consent of the victim to assert the rights of the victim.
  18. To a prompt return of your property.
  19. To be informed regarding advanced notification of judicial proceedings relating to the arrest and release (including new requirement regarding community control) of accused as well as proceedings in the prosecution.
  20. To be informed regarding the victim’s right to request the court room be cleared, with certain exceptions during his or her testimony of a sexual offense, regardless of the victim’s age or mental capacity.
  21. To be informed regarding a victim of domestic violence having the right to be informed of the Address Confidentiality Program administered through the Attorney General’s Office.
  22. To be informed regarding HIV testing in any case which involves the transmission of body fluids from one person to another, upon request of the victim or the victim’s legal guardian, or of the parent or legal guardian of the victim; if the victim is a minor, the court shall order such person to undergo HIV testing.
  23. To not be excluded from any portion of any hearing, trial or proceeding pertaining to the offense based solely on the fact that such person is subpoenaed to testify, unless, upon motion, the court determines such person’s presence to be prejudicial.
  24. That the victims and witnesses who are not incarcerated shall not be required to attend discovery depositions in any correctional facility.
  25. To be advised that information gained by the victim pursuant to Chapter 960, including the next of kin of a homicide victim, regarding any case handled in juvenile court, must not be revealed to any outside party, except as is reasonably necessary in pursuit of legal remedies.
  26. To request, for specific crimes, an exemption prohibiting the disclosure of information to the public, which reveals your name, home and work numbers, home and work addresses, and personal assets not otherwise held confidential under the Public Records Law.
  27. The statutory obligation of the victim, or next of kin of a homicide victim, that any information gained persuant to FS Chapter 960, regarding any case handled in juvenile court, must not be revealed to any outside party, except as reasonably necessary in pursuit of legal remedies.
  28. The right to know in certain cases and at the earliest possible opportunity, if the person charged with an offense has tested positive for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. In such cases, upon request of the victim or the victim’s legal guardian, or the parent or legal guardian if the victim is a minor, the court shall order such person to undergo HIV tersting. In some cases you can be notified of the results of the test within two weeks of the court’s receipt of the results.
  29. The right to request, for specific crimes, that your home and work telephone numbers, home and work addresses, and personal assets not be disclosed to anyone.
  30. The right of a victim of sexual offense to request the presence of a victim advocate during the forensic medical examination. An advocate from a certified rape crisis center shall be permitted to attend any forensic medical examination.
  31. No law enforcement officer, prosecuting attorney, or government official shall ask or require a victim of a sexual offense to submit to a polygraph examination or other truth-telling device as a condition of the investigation.

If you are the victim of a crime and need assistance please contact the PBSO Victim/Witness Unit at:

561-688-3978
561-688-3974

Interference with a victim/witness by threats or acts of revenge is a serious crime in itself and a matter to which the local police agency, the State Attorney’s Office, and the Court will give particular attention and do their utmost to remedy. If you are having any problems or if you or your family are in any way threatened immediately call the police agency or the Sheriff’s Office and make a full report of the events.

Sometimes after a suspect is arrested, defense attorneys or their investigators may attempt to contact you. You have a right to speak to anyone, unless a Court orders you not to discuss it. However, you are not obligated to discuss the case at all, unless you have received a subpoena for a deposition or a trial. You have a right to privacy and to be left alone. If anyone harasses or intimidates you, please advise law enforcement personnel immediately.

Incarcerated victims have the right to be informed and to submit written statements at all crucial stages of the criminal proceedings and parole hearings.

All victims have the right to a prompt and timely disposition of the case in order to minimize the period in which the victim must endure the responsibilities and stress involved to the extent that this right does not interfere with the constitutional rights of the accused.

Each victim or witness who has been scheduled to attend a criminal or juvenile justice proceeding shall be notified as soon as possible by the agency scheduling their appearance of any change in scheduling which will affect their appearance.

Victims’ or the victim’s relative has the right to advanced notification of judicial proceedings and the right to be present at the proceeding.

Any victim, relative of a minor who is a victim, or relative of a homicide victim shall receive from the appropriate agency, at the address found in the police report or the victim notification card, if such has been provided to the agency, prompt advance notification, unless the agency itself does not have advance notification of judicial and post judicial proceedings relating to their case, including all proceedings or hearings relating to:

  1. The arrest of an accused
  2. The release of the accused pending judicial proceedings or any modification of release conditions; and
  3. Proceedings in the prosecution or petition of deliquency of the accused, including the filing of the accusatory instrument, the arraignment, disposition of the accusatory instrument, trial or adjudicatory hearing, sentencing or disposition hearing, appellate review, subsequent modification of sentence, collateral attack of a judgment, and, when a term of imprisonment, detention, or involuntary commitment is imposed, the release of the defendant or juvenile offender from such imprisonment, detention, or commitment by expiration of sentence or parole and any meeting held to consider such release.

The victim of felony involving physical or emotional injury or trauma, or in the case in which the victim is a minor or in a homicide, the guardian or family of the victim shall be consulted by the state attorney in order to obtain the views of the victim or family about the disposition or any criminal or juvenile case brought as a result of such crime, including the views of the victim or family about:

  1. The release of the accused pending judicial proceedings;
  2. Plea agreements;
  3. Participation in the pretrial diversion programs; and
  4. Sentencing of the accused.

In any case where an offender escapes from a state correctional institution, county jail, juvenile detention facility, or involuntary commitment facility, immediate notification shall be made by the institution of confinement to the state attorney of the jurisdiction where the criminal charge or petition for delinquency arose.

The state attorney shall there upon make every effort to notify the victim, material witness, parents or legal guardian of a minor who is a victim or witness, or immediate relatives of a homicide victim of the escapee. The state attorney shall also notify the sheriff of the county where the criminal charge or petition for delinquency arose. The sheriff shall offer assistance upon request.

At the request of the victim, the victim advocate designated by the state attorney’s office, sheriff’s office, or municipal police department, or one representative from a not-for-profit victim services organization, including, but not limited to, rape crises centers, domestic violence advocacy groups, and alcohol abuse or substance abuse groups shall be permitted to attend and be present during any deposition of the victims.

The Victim/Witness program uses specially trained PBSO employees with a social work background and education to assist victims and witnesses of crimes investigated by PBSO. Duties include contacting victims and witnesses to inform them of the pending release of offenders, counseling victims and witnesses, and helping them work with the criminal justice system to give needed testimony, and to refer them to services offered by various county and state programs.

Domestic Violence Unit

No one, not even someone you live with,
has the right to beat you or threaten you with violence.

If someone you live with is beating you or threatening you, YOU CAN TAKE ACTION. Knowing your legal rights and other options is the first step toward ending the abuse.

The Domestic Violence laws protect you if you are being physically or sexually abused or threatened by your spouse, former spouse, or another family or household member who IS or WAS living in the same household as you, or you fear such abuse. The law protects you from abuse by a person with whom you have a child in common. You need not be married to the abuser or related to be protected under the law.

IF YOU ARE THE VICTIM OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE:

Many laws have been created to protect our citizens from domestic violence. If you are a victim, call 911 to report the abuse.

You also have the right to go to court and file a petition requesting an injunction for protection from domestic violence which may include, but need not be limited to, provisions which restrain the abuser from further acts of abuse; direct the abuser to leave your household; prevent the abuser from entering your residence, school, business, or place of employment; award you custody of minor child or children; and direct the abuser to pay support to you and the minor children if the abuser has a legal obligation to do so.

Yes…if this individual has abused you physically or sexually, or if you have reason to fear that this person is about to be violent toward you, this special law in Florida enables you to get a judge to ORDER the abuser to stay away from you.

An injunction for protection explains to the judge from whom you need protection and exactly what protection you need. You can ask for help even if you cannot afford to pay court fees. The clerk of court will supply you with proper forms.

A communication between a domestic violence advocate and a victim is “confidential” if it relates to the incident of domestic violence for which the victim is seeking assistance and if it is not intended to be disclosed to third persons.

A victim has a privilege to refuse to disclose, and to prevent any other person from disclosing, a confidential communication made in the course of advising, counseling, or assisting the victim.

After you file your petition, the judge can sign a Temporary Injunction which will tell the abuser that he/she may not be violent toward you.

The Temporary Injunction is given to you by the judge. A court date will be set for an extension hearing within 15 days. You must attend the hearing in order to have the Injunction extended. A Palm Beach County Victim Services counselor may be at the hearing to support you. During the extension hearing, the judge may extend the Injunction for a period of time up to one year.

Some things the judge MAY order in the injunction are:

  • That the abuser not contact you.
  • That the abuser surrender all firearms.
  • That the abuser not commit any acts of violence against you, your children, or others living with you.
  • That the abuser immediately leave the home you share.
  • That the abuser stay away from your home if you are not living together.
  • That you have temporary custody of any children you and the abuser have together.
  • That the abuser stay away from your home, job, school, or other places.
  • That the abuser stay away from your vehicle and not damage your property.

The judge can order other help, depending upon the circumstances. This is why the contents of the Petition and your attendance at all hearings is so important–so that you can tell the judge what you need and why you need it.

A person who refuses to follow a judge’s order may be put in jail. If the abuser disobeys the judge’s order, please contact the Sheriff’s Office and show them the copy of the Injunction for Protection. In some cases the officer will arrest the abuser. If the abuser is not arrested, the victim may go to the Clerk’s Office and file an affidavit reporting the violation.

Getting help is worth the effort and there are many people who will help you. If you are upset and have questions or if you need a safe place to stay, contact the following:

The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) has designated the following domestic violence centers, from which you may receive services:

YWCA Domestic Violence Shelter Harmony House
2200 North Florida Mango Rd. West Palm Beach, FL 33409
1-800-973-YWCAAID TO VICTIMS OF DOMESTIC ASSAULT (AVDA)
PO Box 667 Delray Beach, FL 33447-0667
1-800-355-8547

If you need assistance with crisis counseling, court advocacy or criminal justice system information, please call a counselor at the nearest location:
SERVICES ARE OFFERED AT NO COST


PALM BEACH COUNTY SHERIFF”S OFFICE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE UNIT
3228 Gun Club Road
West Palm Beach, FL 33406
561-688-3975
561-688-4195
561-688-3972


PALM BEACH COUNTY VICTIM SERVICES
205 S. Dixie Highway
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
561-833-7273


SOUTH COUNTY COURT HOUSE
200 West Atlantic Avenue, Suite 120 Delray Beach, FL 33444
(561) 274-1500


GLADES OFFICE BUILDING
2976 State Road #15 Belle Glade, FL 33430
(561) 996-1939 or (561) 996-1647


CRIME RESPONSE CRISIS TEAM HOTLINE
(561) 930-1234 (evenings)


FLORIDA DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE
1-800-500-1119

The Criminal Justice Process

The criminal justice process starts with the commission of a crime. There are three basic ways a case may be brought to court.

Arrest of the accused at the scene of the crime;

  • Arrest based on a warrant issued by the Court in response to a sworn complaint; and
  • Arrest based on an indictment by a grand jury as the result of an investigation.

In all three instances, the evidence available must be sufficient to later convince the Court that there is “probable cause” to believe that a crime was committed and that the person arrested took part in committing the crime. “Probable Cause” means that there is reasonable belief that a crime has been committed.

Within twenty-four (24) hours of the arrest, the defendant may appear before a judge for a magistrate hearing. At the magistrate hearing the judge will set the conditions if any, for release of the defendant from jail.

When a person who is accused of a crime has sufficient roots in a community to ensure that the person will return for trial, the judge may release the accused on their own recognizance pending judicial proceedings. This means the accused does not have to post bond. Some defendants can post bond prior to the hearing, based on certain conditions.

In Palm Beach County, there is a “no bond” policy on arrests of domestic violence acts. The State Attorney’s Office also has a “no drop” policy in domestic violence cases. Defendants may be prosecuted for domestic violence crimes without the victim.

Victims and witnesses are not required to be present at this hearing but you have the right to attend, and to make the judge aware of your feelings about the release of the accused if you desire to do so. Magistrate hearings are held each morning.

If you wish to speak to the Assistant State Attorney, you must indicate that to the Court Deputy or the Victim Witness Advocate in the magistrate room. The Court Deputy will then inform the attorney that you are present and wish to make a statement. It is important that you inform the Court if the accused has threatened to harm you or your family in any way.

For many crimes, bail bonds have been previously determined by the courts and are contained in a list of standard bond amounts. If the defendant is unable to post the standard bond amount or if the crime for which the accused has been arrested, such as murder, rape, robbery or kidnapping, is not included in the standard bond list, the defendant will go to a first appearance hearing within 24 hours after arrest. This is called a magistrate hearing.

An Arraignment is for the initial court appearance of the defendant at which time the court will inform the defendant of the charges pending, give the defendant their/her rights, appoint a lawyer if necessary, and hear the plea of the defendant. There are two (2) types of arraignment hearings, they are Misdemeanor or Felony Arraignments.

These arraignments are set before a judge when a defendant is charged with an offense. At the arraignment, the defendant is told that he/she is charged with and the possible penalties for the offense. The defendant may plead guilty, and if so, the judge may impose a sentence at this time.

The defendant’s ability to obtain an attorney is also assessed, and a public defender or volunteer attorney may be appointed if he/she cannot afford a private attorney. If you would like your feelings to be taken into consideration, it is important that you appear at this hearing.

You may be receiving a subpoena for certain hearings and the trial. The subpoena is a court order to appear at the time and date indicated. The telephone number of the Victim/Witness Liaison will be on the subpoena, and you will be required to call him/her upon receipt. Your telephone number(s) will be taken in order to inform you of changes in the court date or case status. Many cases do not go to trial, and the State Attorney’s Office will do their best to notify you of changes if you provide them with a contact number. You will also be receiving notices of various hearings that will occur during the course of the criminal process. These notices will differ from your subpoena since they are merely to inform you of the activity of the case and your opportunity, if you wish, to be present at these hearings.

Sometime after the magistrate hearing and before the arraignment, you may be notified to appear at the State Attorney’s Office to give sworn statements regarding the crime. Your attendance is very important. The case against the accused may proceed with or without your cooperation. The accused will not be present at this meeting.

After your appearance at the State Attorney’s office or the presentation of your case to the State Attorney, the Assistant State Attorney who is handling the case will make a determination, based upon the facts presented, as to what action is appropriate. The victim will be informed of the results of this decision.

The State Attorney’s Office may file an Information, a formal document filed with the Clerk’s Office stating the charge(s) filed against the defendant. Or, the State Attorney’s office may file a No-Information, a formal document stating that the facts and circumstances as presented do not warrant prosecution at this time. You may call the Intake Division of the State Attorney’s Office to find out if your case has been filed. (561) 355-7192.

A victim may file an Impact Statement with the State Attorney at any time before sentence is imposed on the defendant. The Victim Impact Statement is a written or oral statement given by you describing the effect the crime has had on you personally and the losses that you have suffered. The Impact Statement also advises the Court of your feelings about the sentence which should be imposed on the defendant. The Victim Impact Statement may be obtained from the State Attorney’s Office, Victim Advocate Unit at (561) 355-7365 or DOVE Program at (561) 355-7433. This unit may also assist you in the completion of the form. The completed form will then be placed in the court file to be presented to the judge for consideration. Additionally, you may be present in Court to testify about the impact of the crime on you.

The attorney for the defendant can have a subpoena issued requiring you to appear and answer questions under oath concerning your knowledge of the criminal offense. This proceeding, where testimony is given, is referred to as a deposition. An Assistant State Attorney can be present if requested in advance by you.

You are not obligated to discuss the case with anyone unless you are properly served with a subpoena.

Pretrial Intervention is a program for first-time offenders.

The defendant must have the approval of the State Attorney and the victim for acceptance into this program. If the defendant successfully completes the program, the criminal charges will be dropped. If the defendant does not fulfill the terms of the program, the charges will be reactivated, and full prosecution will be pursued. Only non-violent crimes are accepted into this program.

A status conference is a court proceeding in which the prosecuting and defense attorneys discuss the situation of the case. At this time the courts are informed of possible plea agreement or the availability of victims/witnesses for trial if a plea agreement cannot be reached. In addition, if the defendant, State or Court is not ready for trail and a plea agreement cannot be reached, the judge will grant a continuance of the case.

If both the State and the defense cannot agree to a plea and a continuance is not granted by the judge, then the case will be scheduled for trial. If the defendant pleads guilty at this time, sentence may be imposed at the time of the plea or a sentencing date will be scheduled. It is important for you to appear at the sentencing hearing if you would like your feelings to be taken into consideration.

Certain motions concerning legal issues may be heard at the status conference. Occasionally, a witness may be needed on a pretrial motion. If your presence is required, you will be subpoenaed well in advance of the hearing. Please note that court dates and hearings may be changed by the Court when there is an emergency or legal necessity therefore you should maintain regular contact with the Victim Advocate Unit and the prosecuting Assistant State Attorney.

Our courts are seriously overcrowded. Delays are often caused when various court proceedings are continued (continuances) for any number of reasons. The State Attorney or defendant’s attorney may request a continuance in order to do further investigations of the case or for other legal reasons. Sometimes these continuances may even mean an unnecessary trip to court for you.

Please remember that every effort is made to keep you informed of the proceedings by the State Attorney’s Office in advance and that your patience and cooperation are essential to successful prosecution.

In a significant number of cases, pre-sentence investigations are conducted. The pre-sentence investigation consists of an interview with the defendant, a review of their criminal record, and a review of the specific facts of the crime. The probation department then makes a recommendation to the judge about the type and severity of the sentence. The judge always makes the final decision about the sentence.

At the trial, the judge or a jury of citizens will decide whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. First, the State will present its evidence, which may include your testimony. Then the defense will present its evidence. Attorneys for each side will have a chance to ask questions of every witness.

The burden of proof is on the State to prove the defendant’s guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This burden is designed to be difficult so that innocent people will not be found guilty. The State cannot carry the burden of proof without the effective cooperation of victims/witnesses.

Many times sentencing of a defendant who pleads guilty or is found guilty takes place at the status conference or trial proceeding. If it is determined that sentencing will occur at a later time, you will receive notification of the scheduled date. Because sentencing can occur at any state, it is important to have your Victim Impact Statement Form completed and returned to the State Attorney’s Office as soon as possible.

All property will promptly be returned to victims and witnesses, upon approval from the case filing agency, unless there is a compelling law enforcement reason for retaining it.

In addition to any punishment, the Court shall order the defendant to make restitution to the victim for damage or loss caused directly or indirectly by the defendant’s offense. Restitution may be monetary or no-monetary. The State Attorney has the responsibility to present to the Court the dollar amount and items to be considered in any restitution hearing. For this reason the Victim Impact Statement Form must be filled out and documentation supplied to the Assistant State Attorney handling the case at the earliest possible time. After inmate’s release any questions about restitution can be asked of Probation Dept. at 561-837-5175.

Victims can be kept informed of any appeals by writing the Attorney General, Bureau of Crime Victims Rights, the Capitol, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-1050, telephone (904) 488-0600.

After a defendant is sent to prison, victims can be kept informed of the defendants status by writing the Department of Corrections, 2501 Blairstone Road, Tallahassee, Fl 32399-2500, Attn.: Victim Assistance, Telephone (904) 488-9166.

If you are physically injured as a result of a crime, you may be eligible for monetary reimbursement of medical bills incurred and loss of wages through the Bureau of Crimes Compensation Program. The purpose of the program is to provide compensation to innocent victims of crimes or their families who suffer physical injury or death as a direct result of a crime. This is different from restitution paid by the defendant.

In order to apply for Crimes Compensation, contact P.B.C. Victim Services at 561-355-2418 for further assistance. These forms are also available through hospitals, police departments, the State Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Office.

If you are physically injured as a result of a crime, you may be eligible for monetary reimbursement of medical bills incurred and loss of wages through the Bureau of Crimes Compensation Program. The purpose of the program is to provide compensation to innocent victims of crimes or their families who suffer physical injury or death as a direct result of a crime. This is different from restitution paid by the defendant.

In order to apply for Crimes Compensation, contact P.B.C. Victim Services at 561-355-2418 for further assistance. These forms are also available through hospitals, police departments, the State Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Office.

Notification to the employer. In cases where you, the victim/witness must take time off from your work to assist in investigations, the investigating police agency, Victim Advocate Unit or the State Attorney will assist you in explaining your circumstances to your employers or creditors, if requested.

Upon request from the victim/witness, assistance can be provided for such services as transportation, parking, separate pretrial waiting areas and translator services for attending court, as is practicable. If you need further information concerning these services, contact the State Attorney’s Office, Victim Advocate Unit or Victim Services.