What is a crime?
A crime is an offense that is defined by the laws of New York State. Crimes can involve acts of violence, theft of property, or possession of contraband such as drugs. Not every crime has an identifiable victim--many do. In all cases, the definition of a crime depends on laws enacted by the New York State Legislature.
What do I do if I'm a victim of a crime?
The first concern after a crime must always be physical safety. Get help if someone is hurt. The police should be summoned at the earliest opportunity. A Police Officer is in the best position to help you and to assure that the criminal investigation is conducted properly. The Police are specially trained to gather evidence. It is vital that evidence be gathered at the earliest chance to maximize the likelihood that an offender will be held accountable for the criminal acts.
What do I do if I witness a crime?
If you see a crime committed, you should call the police. Your assistance is important and can make a difference in the outcome of the case.
What should I expect after the Police become involved?
The police officers will conduct a criminal investigation which may involve collecting physical evidence and speaking with victims and other witnesses. They will seek to identify and locate the person or persons who committed the crime. The evidence that they gather will be used during the prosecution. The District Attorney's staff serves as the legal advisors to the police officers during the investigation and will appear in Court once a person has been charged with committing a crime.
How does the court process work?
When a person has been charged with a crime, he or she is taken before a court and the judge will tell them what crime or crimes they have been accused of committing. That procedure is called an arraignment. Depending on the nature and level of the crime, the next step may involve either a hearing before the local court or a Grand Jury presentation. In both of those instances, the District Attorney's Office will appear in Court with victims and/or witnesses. In Dutchess County, generally the same Assistant District Attorney will handle the case from the beginning to the end. They will explain the process to the witnesses and victims in detail as the process unfolds. The majority of cases do not actually reach trial. However, in all cases, the Assistant District Attorney should seek input from the victims as to the resolution of the case. Where a case goes to trial, the victims and witnesses should expect to meet with the Assistant District Attorney. The Assistant District Attorney will be available to answer any individual questions that may arise in the case. In addition, you may be referred to a Crime Victims Service Agency. The District Attorney's Office welcomes the involvement of advocates who can, in many cases, be of great emotional support and assistance to victims of crimes. In many cases, it will not be necessary for you to actually go to court and testify. However, it is always important for the Assistant District Attorney assigned to a case to speak with you and to know what it is that you know about a case. Where you are actually the victim of a crime, the Assistant District Attorney will seek your input in the resolution of the case. He or she will need to know if you seek restitution or have expenses caused as a result of the offender's actions. The District Attorney's Office will make every effort to obtain restitution in your behalf.
What rights do I have as a victim or witness?
As a victim or witness to a crime, you have the right to be treated fairly and with dignity. You have the right to have your questions answered and, in some cases, if you are the victim yourself, you have the right to actually speak before the Court and to convey your feelings about what happened to you. As members of our community, we all have a civic duty to ourselves and our neighbors to assure that justice is done. To that end, it is the duty of all of us to cooperate with the criminal justice system and to disclose what knowledge we have about any particular crime. The law provides that no person may be penalized by their employer for complying with a subpoena to testify about a case. The District Attorney's Office will endeavor to explain your rights to you more fully in the event you find yourself involved in a criminal case as either a victim or a witness.
The Following Information is Provided in Compliance with Article 23 of the Executive Law: Your Rights as a Crime Victim
- In some circumstances, the New York State Crime Victims Board may reimburse you for actual expenses caused by the crime. This might include the value of damaged property, lost income or support, medical bills or funeral bills. You can obtain a claim form from the police department that handled this case, the District Attorney's Office, Crime Victims' Services, a hospital emergency room or by requesting one from the Crime Victims Board at: 845 Central Avenue, Suite 107, Albany, NY 12206 (518) 457-8658. In general, claims must be filed within one year of the incident.
You may also be eligible for help from other programs such as those listed under Victim Service Agencies. Statutory reference: Article 22 of the Executive Law.
- If you have given your current address and telephone number to the appropriate official, you have the right to be notified of certain judicial proceedings. They include: arrest of the accused, the first appearance before the court, release from custody while the criminal proceeding is pending, entry of a guilty plea, trial, sentencing, and release or escape of an offender committed to a state mental health facility. If you make a request to the District Attorney, you have the right to be notified of the final disposition of the case. If the offender is sentenced to prison, you will also be notified of your right to address the New York State Division of Parole either in person or in writing. If you are the victim of a violent felony offense, you will be notified of the inmate's discharge or parole by the Department of Correctional Services if you have filed a victim notice. That form is filed on your behalf, if you ask, by the District Attorney when the offender is sentenced. If an offender escapes from custody, the Department of Correctional Services must notify you and/or your family "by the most reasonable and expedient means possible." In general, court proceedings are public and a victim and his or her family have the right to attend. There are a number of issues that surround your appearance in court and you should discuss them with the Assistant DA assigned to your case. Statutory references: Executive Law §§641 (3), 641 (3) (b), 641 (3)(c), 259-1 (2) (c) (v); Criminal Procedure Law §§330.20, 440.50; Correction Law §149-a.
- Crime victims have the right to be free from tampering, threats, physical injury and other kinds of intimidation. The police and District Attorney's Office can make suggestions for you. If appropriate, the court can issue an Order of Protection. If you are threatened or harassed by anyone about the case, you should contact the police or the District Attorney immediately. If you are contacted by the defendant or someone on his or her behalf, you have the right to say that you do not wish to speak with them about the case. They cannot require you to speak with them other than in court. Statutory references: Criminal Procedure Law §§530.12, 530.13; Penal Law §§215.15, 215.16, 215.17; 9 NYCRR 6170.
- When a defendant has been convicted of offenses that require completion of a pre-sentence report by the Probation Department, you have the right to make your views known to the sentencing court by speaking with a probation officer and/or addressing the court personally. You may tell the court your version of the offense and the nature of your injuries and damages. Since not all cases require completion of a pre-sentence report, it is important for the District Attorney to know your views about the disposition of the case. You may submit a written statement to the Parole Board if the defendant is sentenced to prison. Statutory references: Criminal Procedure Law §§390.30, 380. 50(2) (b); Executive Law §259-1.
- Where a defendant is being sentenced for a felony, you have the right to request to make a statement at the time of sentencing. Statutory references: Criminal Procedure Law §380.50; Executive Law §646-a.
- You have the right to request restitution and to have that request presented to the court. Statutory references: Criminal Procedure Law §420.10; Penal Law §60.27.
- Crime victims can get a copy of the police report relating to the crime. Statutory reference: §646 Executive Law.
- Crime victims have a right to the prompt return of their property held as evidence unless there is a compelling reason for holding it. Statutory reference: §642(3) Executive Law.