Victim and Witness Rights
As a victim of crime in the State of Florida, you have certain rights too. There are also many programs and services available to help you.
As a Victim or Witness of Crime, You Should Know
For many, being a victim or witness to crime is their first experience with the criminal justice system. While the emphasis of the system has been the investigation and prosecution of the crime, all too often in the past, innocent victims and witnesses have been overlooked. The following information is furnished to reduce this problem and to advise victims and witnesses of help available to them.
The Florida Constitution guarantees the rights of a victim, including the next of kin of a homicide victim, to be informed, to be present, and to be heard, when relevant, at all crucial stages of criminal, juvenile justice and parole proceedings, to the extent that this right doesn’t interfere with constitutional rights of the accused. Incarcerated victims have the right to be informed and to submit written statements at all crucial stages of the criminal, juvenile justice and parole proceedings.
If you receive injuries, you may be eligible for crime compensation to help with medical bills, lost wages, funeral expenses, etc. For more information, contact the Bureaus of Crime Compensation, 1-800-226-6667 or the local Victim Advocate Program at the State Attorney’s Office.
Notice of Right: You have the right to request restitution and to receive information on how to enforce the court’s order.
What to Expect from the System and What the System Expects from You
As a victim or witness, your role is critical in the criminal and juvenile justice systems. You may have seen, heard, know or experienced something important to the investigation of a case. You may be interviewed by law enforcement to identify the assailant you recognized, to help in finding the crime scene, identify stolen property, etc. Please keep our agency advised where you’re living and your telephone numbers (work, home, cellular). The criminal justice process starts with a crime. There are four basic ways a case can proceed:
- A person may be arrested at the time of the crime. Law enforcement completes an arrest document stating the charges against the accused. If no arrest is made at the time of the crime, law enforcement investigates.
- If appropriate, law enforcement presents a sworn complaint to the State Attorney. The State Attorney determines whether there’s probable cause to believe a crime was committed and that the suspect may have committed the crime. The State Attorney may file a document, called an Information, with the Clerk of Court, charging the suspect with the criminal offense. If an Information is filed, the Judge, through the Clerk of the Court, may issue a capias (an order to arrest).
- Based on the investigation, an affidavit of probable cause is presented to the Judge by the State Attorney. If probable cause is found, the Judge may issue an arrest warrant. Both the capias and the arrest warrant direct law enforcement to arrest the person believed to have committed the crime.
The accused may be arrested based upon the investigation and indictment returned by the grand jury.
How Long until an Arrest is Made
As a victim, you have a right to be notified of an arrest. Each case will proceed differently. The law enforcement agency making the arrest will notify you of the arrest. Interviewing witnesses and the collection of evidence can be a timely process, there’s not a set time frame. To find out about your case, call (863) 773-0304 ext. 230 and give the defendant’s name and the case number.
Bail or Bond
Bail or bond is the amount of money or property posted by the defendant for his/her release to ensure the defendant appears in court. The amount of bail is set by the Judge at the time the arrest warrant or arrest capias is issued. The Court considers the nature of the offense, evidence, defendant’s employment status, mental condition, ties to the community, and convictions before setting bail. In less violent crimes, the defendant may be allowed to post bond and be released immediately.
What if my Case Involves a Juvenile
A juvenile (an individual under the age of 18) accused of a crime and arrested or charged with a misdemeanor or non-violent felony, may be immediately released to the custody of his/her parents or legal guardians. Juveniles who are not released will go to a detention hearing within 24 hours to determine conditions of release. If you wish, you may attend the detention hearing at the Hardee County Courthouse.
First Appearance Hearing
For more violent crimes or if the defendant cannot post bond within hours of the arrest, the Court holds a “First Appearance” hearing. The Judge decides whether the defendant can be released based on the nature of the offense, evidence, defendant’s employment status, mental condition, ties to the community, previous convictions, and if so, what conditions are necessary to protect the victim/witness. Bail may be set when the arrest is made on probable cause by law enforcement. There are times when the defendant is released on his/her own recognizance (signature on bond). The Judge can include special conditions ordering the defendant to have “no contact” with the victim and/or witness. You may attend First Appearance hearings.
Notification of the Release of the Accused
If the defendant is able to post bond, he/she may be released pending trial. You, as a victim, have a right to be advised of the release of the defendant. The jail will attempt to contact you by phone or mail, or you may call the jail at (863) 767-9042.
Victim and Witness Personal Safety
- If you receive threats, bribes, or other attempts to persuade or intimidate you into testifying untruthfully, or to forget or to make yourself unavailable as a witness, report it immediately to the Hardee County Sheriff’s Office at (863) 773-4144.
- If you’re the victim of domestic violence or repeat violence (more than two incidents), you can file an Injunction for Protection with the Victim Assistance Program at the Hardee County Courthouse, Hardee County Clerk of Court’s Office. Call 9-1-1 for help with unwanted trespassers. As a domestic violence victim, you have the right to be informed of the address confidentiality program administered by the Attorney General’s Office.
Right to Timely Disposition: As a victim or witness, you have the right to a prompt and timely disposition of the case, to the extent, this right doesn’t interfere with the rights of the accused.
Notification of Employer or Creditors
Upon request, the State Attorney’s Office or the Sheriff’s Office will inform your employer the investigation and prosecution of the case may require your absence from work. At your request, they’ll also contact your creditors to seek their consideration if you are temporarily unable to continue payments as a result of a crime.
Notification of Scheduling Changes
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 his/her appearance, of any change in schedules affecting his/her appearance.
Advance Notification of Judicial Proceedings
Advance notification to a victim, or the relative of a victim, concerning judicial proceedings relating to the arrest of the accused, the release of the accused pending judicial proceedings or modification of the release conditions of community control, and for juvenile cases those designated proceedings. Notification can only be accomplished if the victim, or relative of a homicide victim, has provided the appropriate agency with a current address and the agency itself has sufficient advance notice of the judicial or post judicial proceeding.
Pre-Sentence Review of Investigation
Victims, or their representatives, have the right to review portions of hate pre-sentence investigations on the accused, prior to the sentencing of the accused. Contact the State Attorney’s Office for details.
Notice of Right: Victims and witnesses, who are not incarcerated, shall not be required to attend discovery dispositions in any correctional facility.
Notice of Right: The court shall clear the courtroom or all persons, with certain exceptions, during his or her testimony of a sexual offense, regardless of the victim’s age or mental capacity.
Consultation with the Victim, Guardian or Family Member of the Victim
In a felony crime involving physical or emotional trauma, the State Attorney’s Office shall consult with the victim to obtain the views of the victim, or the victim’s family, about the release of the accused, plea agreements, participation in pretrial diversion, and sentencing of the accused.
Restitution to the Victim
The court may order restitution for certain losses (medical bills, property damage, stolen property, etc.). Keep track of your losses; the State Attorney will make every effort to secure the proper amount of restitution if requested and ordered by the Court.
Victims of crimes involving the transmission of bodily fluids have the right to prompt notice when the person charged with the crime tests positive for the HIV infection.
As a victim of crime, you have the right of standing to assert your rights. See your State Attorney for an explanation on how to exercise this right.
The Right to Submit a Victim Impact Statement
The victim of crime has the right to submit an oral, or written, impact statement to the Judge, prior to the sentencing of the offender. The State Attorney’s Office will assist the victim with his or her statement.
Return of Property
If property was stolen or other property is needed by law enforcement to prove the crime, it becomes important as evidence. Some evidence or property must be sent to labs for analysis. It’s helpful for the jury to see the property at trial and is sometimes necessary to keep the property until trial. However, your property will be returned to you as promptly as possible. If you have questions concerning the release of your property, call the law enforcement agency or the State Attorney.
Escape from Commitment Facility
You’re entitled to information concerning an escape of the offender. The State Attorney will make every effort to notify the victim, material witness or relatives of a homicide victim of an escape.
Presence of a Victim Advocate
At the request of the victim, a victim advocate shall be permitted to attend and be present at a deposition of the victim.
Information about Additional Victim Assistance
Information will be made available to victims and witnesses about other assistance, such as transportation, parking, waiting areas and translator services to be utilized when attending court.
What Happens Next
Information on how your case proceeds after First Appearance will be available to you at the State Attorney’s Office, before First Appearance at the Sheriff’s Office. We thank you ahead of time for your patience, assistance and cooperation in the investigation of this crime.
Notice of Right: To request, for specific crimes, an exception prohibiting disclosure of information to the public, which reveals your home and work address, phone numbers and personal assets, not otherwise held confidential under the Public Records Law.
Notice: A victim, or a victim’s next of kin, may 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.
Notice of Right: To request, in certain circumstances, the offender be required to attend a different school than the victim or siblings of the victim.
Information Gained by the Victim Pursuant to Chapter 960
Information made available to crime victims, including next of kin of a homicide victim, cases handled in juvenile court, etc., must not be revealed to any outside party, except as is reasonably necessary in pursuit of legal remedies.
For assistance, contact the Office of the State Attorney, Victim/Witness Assistance Program at (863) 773-6613.