Victim Witness Advocates: The Silent Strength

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The year 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Victim-Witness Services division in the Office of the State’s Attorney for Anne Arundel County.

The idea that victims and witnesses shouldn’t have to navigate the legal process on their own began modestly, with just one employee hired in 1979. Now, 17 professionals divided among the three courthouses in the county serve as a voice for victims and witnesses in the courtroom.

While the prosecutor - an assistant state’s attorney - leads each case to court, he or she does so with the support of a case manager, paralegals and clerks, and their right-hand partner, the victim-witness advocate. Advocates know the direct impact that damaged property, medical bills, or lost wages have on a person’s life. Advocates are trained to help a victim cope with the untimely and tragic loss of a loved one from homicide and vehicular crashes. They understand that innocent people may become overwhelmed by the judicial process, and they offer guidance for those who are unfamiliar with the workings of court proceedings. Advocates provide information and support - procedurally and personally - in matters such as pre-trial meetings with prosecutors and the logistics of appearing in court to testify.

Also, they find and recommend counseling services for adults and children, assist with filling out victim notification and compensation forms, and provide a compassionate and caring presence throughout the proceedings. In some cases, they help a victim or witness with safety planning and relocation following a serious criminal event.

The Office of the State’s Attorney prosecutes cases in three locations: Glen Burnie and Annapolis district courts and in the Annapolis Circuit Court. Seven advocates serve citizens in the district courts where cases such as domestic violence, assaults, impaired driving, and other misdemeanor matters are heard. Advocates serve as the first point of contact for victims and witnesses and typically help gather important evidence from them, such as medical records, photographs and financial documents for court.

Historically, the sheer number of criminal cases in the district court resulted in victim-witness advocates having to limit their services to assisting mainly victims of domestic violence. However, since July 2019, I have been able to expand their services to also include the victims of serious traffic offenses, thefts and non-domestic violence assaults. I am grateful that our county council saw the importance of the victim-witness advocate program and provided our office with the funding for the addition of a district court advocate to handle these other important cases.

In the circuit court, 10 advocates are assigned to assist victims and witnesses in more serious felony cases. Cases in the circuit court include burglary, robbery, felony assault, child abuse, sexual assault and homicides. These cases often involve significant financial loss and damage to property, costly medical bills and the need for referrals for trauma and survivor counseling. All of our victim-witness advocates provide referrals to community resources for housing, financial aid, safety planning, restitution information, community education, and legal and social assistance.

Additionally, the victim-witness advocates connect victims to various financial resources such as the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board (CICB) and the Victim’s Fund, which is comprised of money donated to the Anne Arundel County community for the sole purpose of aiding crime victims who have no other means to replace or repair damages that are a direct result of a crime – think broken windows, damaged cars and other property.

While each day is different – and some challenges greater than others - each victim-witness advocate remains committed to assisting our county’s citizens throughout the course of a criminal case every step of the way.

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