The Victim Witness Assistance Program of the District Attorney’s Office was established to assist victims of crimes with their involvement in the criminal justice system. The primary mission of the Victim Witness Assistance Program is to meet the statutory requirements of the Georgia Victims Bill of Rights. This includes notification to all crime victims concerning each stage of the criminal justice system. The Victim Witness Assistance Program also aims to improve the treatment of victims and witnesses by providing them with the assistance and services necessary to speed their recovery from the criminal act and to support and aid them as they move through the criminal justice system. The system is dependent upon the cooperation of victims and witnesses. Without a citizen’s willingness to report crime and testify about criminal acts, holding criminals accountable is virtually impossible. Studies have shown that when victims and witnesses are treated with dignity and respect during their interaction with the criminal justice system and are regularly informed of the status of their case, they are more willing to cooperate with the prosecutor’s office. Since the prosecution of criminal cases cannot be effected without such cooperation, contact with and treatment of victims and witnesses directly affects the prosecution of cases and the conviction of criminal defendants.
The Victim Witness Assistance Program is composed of trained staff members to help guide the victims and witnesses through the maze of the criminal justice system.
Services provided by the staff of the Victim Witness Assistance Program:
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- Explanation of the steps of the criminal justice system and the court process.
- Notification of the status of the case, including court hearings.
- Preparing the victim and witnesses for court appearances and providing orientation and companionship at court proceedings.
- Referrals to other community resources and services.
- Assisting with the completion of Victim Impact Statements, Victim Compensation Claims, and the prompt return of the victim’s property from evidence when possible
- Interceding with employers and school systems when possible to explain missed time from work or school.
- Providing a safe, secure place for victims and witnesses to wait before testifying.
- Coordinating an on-call system for court appearances to aid victims and witnesses in avoiding lengthy absences from work and/or school.
- Helping victims or witnesses if they feel afraid, intimidated, or harassed.
The Importance of Victims and Witnesses
No one expects to be the victim of or a witness to a crime – but it does happen. Every year many citizens of this circuit are victimized by crimes. If you, or someone you know, are affected by crime, you may be shocked, angered, or shamed. You will most probably feel helpless and confused.Top of Page
The Victim Witness Assistance Program was established to offer victims and witnesses emotional support during the aftermath of the crime and guidance through the maze of the criminal justice system.
The knowledge of a victim or witness about a criminal case is extremely important. No crime can be solved without the help of victims and witnesses. A citizen’s willingness to be involved in the criminal justice system, enables him or her to work with other citizens, the police, prosecutors and the courts to reduce crime in our communities.
Mostly importantly, the cooperation and assistance of victims and witnesses not only in reporting crime, but also with participating in the criminal justice system, could prevent others from being victimized.
Stages in the Criminal Justice System
The Criminal Justice System can often be time consuming and confusing. The following brief description is provided as a limited tool to explain the general progression of a criminal case. Please note that the process is often different in other jurisdictions and other courts depending on the charges involved.
- Criminal act occurs and is reported.
- Warrant Issued – taken out by law enforcement or victim.
- Bail/Bond – Bail/Bond is set for all misdemeanor cases except when the defendant is currently on probation or parole; in those cases, a bond may be set or the defendant may remain in custody on a hold. If a bond is set, the defendant may get out of jail, but is required to attend all future court proceedings. A defendant, who cannot post bond or whose bond has not been set, must remain in jail until he/she appears before a Superior Court Judge for further considerations. Every defendant charged with a criminal act is considered innocent until proven guilty and therefore entitled to a bond except under special circumstances. A judge has the final decision about bond matters and can deny or grant a defendant a bond at any time.
- First Appearance Hearing – a hearing held in Magistrate Court within 72 hours of arrest for defendants unable to make bond or where a bond has not has been set. The charges are read, and the defendant’s rights are explained to him.
- Probable Cause Hearing – a hearing held in the Magistrate Court to determine if there is probable cause to believe that the defendant committed a crime. You will be notified if you are required to appear and/or testify.
- Grand Jury/Accusation – Felony cases can either be presented to the Grand Jury or have an Accusation filed, depending on the nature of the charges. The Grand Jury is a panel of citizens who review the facts of the case to determine if the case should be bound over for trial. If the Grand Jury determines the case meets the requirements to continue with prosecution, the case will be indicted, which is also referred to as a true bill, and future court dates will be set. If the Grand Jury does not consider the case worthy of continued prosecution, they will return a no-bill on the case and the prosecution of the case will be terminated. Under Georgia Law, some charges are not required to be considered by the Grand Jury. With these cases, an accusation is filed, formally charging the defendant with the crime, and the case is scheduled for future court dates.
- Arraignment – At this proceeding, the defendant is informed of the formal charges against him/her and either pleads guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads guilty, the Court may sentence him/her on that date. If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case will be scheduled for trial on a future date.
- Motions Hearings – Motions may be filed by the defendant or the State. The Court hears the motions and decides whether certain evidence will be admissible at trial. You will be notified if you are needed to testify at such a hearing.
- Trial – The trial may be a jury trial, before a panel of twelve jurors, or a non-jury trial, which is held before a judge. If the defendant is found guilty, he/she is sentenced by the Court. Testimony of victims and witnesses is extremely important in a trial.
- Sentencing – the Court has final discretion regarding sentencing.
A defendant may plead guilty at any time during the progression of a criminal case. Also, if the prosecutor determines that the facts of the case contradict the goals and basis of prosecution, the prosecutor is obligated to dismiss the case.Top of Page
Crime Victims Bill of Rights
Pursuant to the Georgia Crime Victims Bill of Rights, which was enacted through the Georgia Legislature in 1995, victims of certain crimes are afforded specific rights under the law. According to the Official Code of Georgia, Title 17, Chapter 17, victims of the following crimes receive benefits under the Crime Victims Bill of Rights:
- Assault and Battery
- Kidnapping, false imprisonment, and related offenses
- Reckless Conduct
- Cruelty to Children
- Stalking/Aggravated Stalking
- Sexual Offenses
- Armed Robbery
- Sexual Exploitation of a Child
- Homicide by Vehicle
- Feticide by Vehicle
- Serious Injury by Vehicle
In general, after the crime occurs and is reported, and upon initial contact with a victim, law enforcement and court personnel must advise him or her of the following:
- That it is possible that the accused may be released from custody prior to trial.
- That he or she has certain rights during various stages of the criminal justice system.
- That additional information about these stages can be obtained by contacting the pertinent state and/or local agency involved, or by contacting the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council at 404-559-4949.
- That he or she may have available to them monetary compensation for certain out-of-pocket losses incurred as a result of their victimization, which is administered by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.
- That he or she may have available to them community based victim service programs and that more information may be obtained by contacting the Governor’s Victim Assistance Helpline at 1-800-992-6745.
Victims of crimes also have the following rights:
- To be notified of each stage in the judicial process including pretrial hearings, bond, arraignment, motions hearings, pleas of guilty, trial, sentencing and appeals.
- To be notified of any arrest, release, possibility of release, or escape of the accused or any change in custodial status.
- To give opinions regarding release from custody or bond issues.
- To remain in a private waiting area during court proceedings.
- To offer input on plea negotiations or sentence hearings or conditions.
- To protection from intimidation and harm.
- To receive compensation and/or restitution when eligible.
NOTE: Further details regarding the Georgia Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights can be found in Title 17 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated.Top of Page
Crime Victims Compensation Program
The State of Georgia has established a fund to assist victims of violent crime with crime related expenses. This program can help compensate victims for medical bills, counseling expenses, lost wages, funeral expenses and other various costs. However, this program is considered a “payer of last resort” – which means that the victim must exhaust all other forms of compensation (insurance, etc.) before applying for compensation under the Crime Victims Compensation Program.
Who is eligible for Compensation?
Victims who have been physically injured in a violent crime including but not limited to victims of:
- sexual assault (adult & child)
- child abuse
- domestic/family violence
- DUI crashes (injury/death)
- Persons incurring eligible expenses due to crime
Who is not eligible for Compensation?
- Victims of property crimes
- Victims who incite, consent to, or provoke the crime committed against them
- Victims who were participating in a criminal act
- Victims who do not report the crime to law enforcement officials within 72 hours
If you have further questions regarding the Georgia Crime Victims Compensation Program, please call the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council at (404)559-4949 or the Waycross Judicial Circuit Victim Assistance Program. Telephone numbers for our program contacts are:Top of Page
Tammy Horlock, Coordinator
(912)287-4353 or 287-4395
Brantley, Pierce & Ware Counties
Valerie Brinson, Coordinator
(912)383-7600 or 384-6166
Bacon, Charlton & Coffee Counties
Crime Victims Impact Statement
This form is a tool used by the Prosecutor, Judge and Parole Board to better understand how a certain crime has affected the victim. Victim Impact Statements should be completed and returned to the Prosecutor’s Office as quickly as possible in an effort to gather information from the victim about their case.Top of Page
If the defendant is convicted of or enters a plea of guilty to a charge and is sentenced to time to serve in the State Prison System, this form can be used to request early notification from the Parole Board regarding parole (early release from prison) decisions.
Most importantly, the Victim Impact Statement allows the victim the opportunity to voice opinions about the crime.
Georgia Department of Corrections
The Georgia Department of Corrections is the agency responsible for housing inmates once they have been sentenced to time to serve in the State Prison System.
The Georgia Department of Corrections has an Office of Victims Services which provides the following services to victims of crime if the victim has made the appropriate request:
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- Notification of release of an inmate from prison when the maximum sentence has been served, if the inmate is being transferred to a transitional center, escapes or is recaptured, or dies while in custody.
- Access to the V.I.N.E. (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) System – a system set up through the Georgia Department of Corrections to provide automated notification to requesting crime victims.
- The opportunity to participate in Restorative Justice Programs such as “The Impact of Crime Upon Victims Program.” This curriculum is designed to educate inmates of the impact crime has on victims and incorporates the use of “Victim Impact Panels” – a panel made up of volunteer survivors of crime who share with inmates, in a secure setting, a first hand account of the devastating effects of crime.
State Board of Pardons and Paroles
The Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles is the State agency tasked with the responsibility of reviewing Georgia inmates to determine parole (early release) eligibility and for supervising such inmates if early release does occur.Top of Page
Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles has established an Office of Victim Advocacy to better assist crime victims in notification of early release and to obtain opinions from victims regarding such release considerations.
In order for a victim to be notified of early release considerations, the victim must first request to be notified. The request can occur via a hand-written letter or by completing a Victim Impact Statement and mailing it to the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles.