Crime Victims Now Have Constitutional Rights

How a Victims’ Rights Attorney Can Advocate for Victims of Sexual Assault

March 10, 2019

The right of a defendant to personally cross-examine witnesses is not absolute

How a Victims’ Rights Attorney Can Advocate for Victims of Sexual AssaultIn the United States, defendants in criminal cases have numerous rights afforded to them by the constitution.  One of those rights is the right to represent themselves in court.  This is also referred to as being “pro se.”  When a defendant in a criminal case is pro se, they are often at a disadvantage.  As the old saying goes, “a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” However, because defendants are entitled to cross-examine the witnesses against them, some may use this ability as a tool to traumatize or manipulate their victims.

In these situations, it is vital to have an Irvine victims’ rights attorney by your side.  A skilled lawyer can advocate on your behalf to protect you from being cross-examined by the very person who caused you harm.

Recently, the National Crime Victims Law Institute (NCVLI) filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief  in a Pennsylvania case that supported a minor victim’s right in a criminal sexual violence case.  In the brief, the NCVLI argued that reasonable limitations to protect victims’ right to dignity and protection are appropriate.  It further made the case that having an attorney on standby to question victims is a proper solution, as it prevents re-victimization, advances the fair administration of the trial, and does not discourage victims from reporting their crimes.

If you are a victim in a sexual violence case, the person who abused you may choose to represent himself or herself in court.  This opens up the possibility that your abuser will cross-examine you about the circumstances of the abuse or attack.  Understandably, this would be incredibly traumatic for most victims of sexual violence.  An experienced Irvine victims’ rights attorney can make an argument that pursuant to California’s Victims’ Bill of Rights (Marsy’s Law), crime victims are entitled to be treated with “fairness, dignity, and respect.”  Subjecting them to a cross-examination by their alleged abuser would violate that principle and is a justification for limiting a defendant’s right to self-representation.

In situations where a defendant is acting pro se, a trial court is authorized to appoint standby counsel to assist him or her, even if the defendant objects.  A seasoned Irvine victims’ rights attorney can request that a trial court appoint a standby counsel as soon as a defendant indicates that he wants to represent himself.  This way, lawyer will be available to cross-examine witnesses, including the victim, and prevent harassment, intimidation, and re-traumatization.

Although courts across the United States have not consistently ruled that victims have a right to not be cross-examined by defendants who are representing themselves, an Irvine victims’ rights attorney can make the case that a defendant should not be allowed to do so. Attorney Michael E. Fell is a tenacious advocate for California crime victims.  As a former prosecutor, he understands the system, and is dedicated to protecting victims and fighting for their rights.

Justice 4 Crime Victims represents California crime victims in all stages of the criminal justice process.  Contact us today at 949-585-9055 or mfell@fellesq.com to schedule a free initial consultation with an Irvine victims’ rights attorney.