By District Attorney Ryan Sayers
2023 Vol. 7
In continuing with our conversation about plea agreements, this week I am going to discuss the role a victim plays when evaluating a case and how that affects the outcome.
Victims have rights in the criminal justice system and they are set forth in the PA Crime Victims Act. These rights include but are not limited to being present at hearings, having an advocate present with them at proceedings and being able to address the judge prior to sentencing.
In Clearfield County, we are fortunate to have an excellent staff at our Victim Witness Office, which is part of the District Attorney’s Office.
These advocates make sure that victims of crimes are up-to-date on what is happening with their case, provide information and notices to victims and assist in directing victims to services.
All of which are intended to put victims at ease with the process and give them the support they need to see a criminal brought to justice.
However, not every case has a victim that wants to proceed with charges or testify against a defendant. Sometimes the victim is a young child and his/her parent(s) or guardian(s) do not want to traumatize him/her by having the child testify in open court about what happened.
Other cases have a victim that is so terrified of the defendant that he/she does not want to be in fear of retribution or retaliation when the defendant gets out of jail.
Another situation is where a spouse/significant other does not want anything to happen to the defendant and ends up recanting or changing his/her story to protect the defendant.
When these types of situations arise, which regularly occur, our job as prosecutors is to balance protecting the victim(s), protecting society and holding the defendant accountable for his/her actions.
Many times that is when a plea is offered to an offense that is less than the top charge on the criminal complaint.
This protects the victim but also makes sure that a defendant receives some kind of sentence instead of having to withdraw the case altogether.
Next week, I will continue with this discussion about plea agreements and different factors that affect the outcome of a case.
Ryan Sayers is the elected District Attorney of Clearfield County, Pennsylvania.
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