- Victims have state constitutional rights in criminal cases, including the right to be kept informed of the case status, to consult with the prosecutor about the case, to be present or be heard at sentencing, and to be informed of the defendant’s custody or release status.
Overview of Rights and Protections
Under Article I, Section 37 of the North Carolina Constitution (amendment adopted in 1995), victims of crimes are entitled to a number of basic rights such as the right to be kept informed of and be present for court proceedings, confer with the prosecutor about the case, be heard at sentencing, and receive information about the court process and post-conviction developments. These rights are more specifically implemented by two key sets of statutes.
What about Marsy's Law?
In November of 2018, voters approved an amendment to Article I, Section 37 of the North Carolina Constitution, modifying and expanding the statutory protections described below. On August 29, 2019, the General Assembly passed enabling legislation to implement this amendment. This entry will be updated further as the new law goes into effect. For more information, see Shea Denning, "Victims' Right Bill Sent to Governor," N.C. Criminal Law Blog, September 5, 2019.
- Crime Victims’ Rights Act
The Crime Victims’ Rights Act ("CVRA") is found in Article 46 of Chapter 15A (G.S. 15A-830 through 841). The CVRA defines and implements various rights and protections for victims of certain specified crimes. Under the CVRA, the victim (or next of kin, if the victim is deceased) is entitled to the following:
- Information about available medical services, contact information for relevant law enforcement and prosecution agencies, information about the suspect’s arrest, and the opportunity to request further notices and updates about the case. G.S. 15A-831. The investigating law enforcement agency is responsible for providing this information to the victim. Id. It must be provided as soon as practicable, but no more than 72 hours after being identified as a victim. Id.
- Protections for victims (or witnesses) of a sexual assault regarding polygraph examinations, and a prohibition against making the polygraph a precondition to investigating the case. See G.S. 15A-831.1 (Polygraph examinations of victims of sexual assaults).
- Information from the district attorney’s office about the victim’s rights, court procedure and expectations, notice of selected hearings in the case, opportunity to consult regarding the handling of the case, and providing contact information to remain informed about defendant’s custody status post-conviction. See G.S. 15A-832 (Responsibilities of the district attorney’s office).
- Separation of the victim’s identifying information from the suspect’s information in warrants issued based on a complaining witness’s testimony. See G.S. 15A-832.1 (Responsibilities of judicial officials issuing warrants).
- Right (but not a requirement) to offer evidence at sentencing about the impact of the crime, including description of the injury inflicted, loss suffered, and a request for compensation. See G.S. 15A-833 (Evidence of victim impact).
- Restitution, as allowed by law. See G.S. 15A-834 (Restitution) (for more information about Victim Compensation Services, see here).
- Information within 30 days after the final proceedings in the case about the conviction and disposition, contact information concerning restitution, notice of appeal, the defendant’s release on bail, or reversal of the conviction on appeal. See G.S. 15A-835 (Post-trial responsibilities).
- If requested, notification from the custodial agency regarding defendant’s release date, change in custody classification, escape and capture, death, and the victim’s right to submit concerns to the custodial agency and the procedure for doing so. See G.S. 15A-836 (Responsibilities of agency with custody of defendant).
- If defendant is on probation or post-release supervision, the victim is entitled to be informed of the conditions imposed, violations, dispositions, modifications, the defendant’s absconding and capture, and the defendant’s death. See G.S. 15A-837 (Responsibilities of Community Corrections).
- Notice from the Governor’s Clemency Office of any pardon or commutation of defendant’s conviction or sentence, and the victim’s right to present a written statement before that happens. See G.S. 15A-838 (Notice of commuted sentence or pardon).
- If a victim is a minor or mentally or physically incompetent, these rights may generally be exercised on the victim’s behalf by the next of kin or legal guardian. See G.S. 15A-841 (Incompetent victim’s rights exercised).
The rights and protections created by the statutes listed above do not create a claim for damages by the victim against the state or any of its agencies or employees. G.S. 15A-839. Additionally, the failure or inability of any person to provide these rights or services may not be claimed as grounds for relief in a criminal or civil suit, except in suits for a writ of mandamus by the victim. G.S. 15A-840.
- Fair Treatment for Certain Victims and Witnesses
This predecessor to the CVRA is found in Article 45 of Chapter 15A (G.S. 15A-824 through 827), which provides protections and guarantees for victims of crimes, as well as witnesses in felony cases. Some of these protections are less extensive than the comparable provisions found in the CVRA, but Article 45 applies to a broad range of offenses that the CVRA does not cover. The specific rights and protections are found in G.S. 15A-825, “Treatment due victims and witnesses,” and include the following:
- Information about and prompt access to medical assistance;
- Information about protection from threats/harm arising out of cooperating with law enforcement;
- Information about keeping one’s home address out of testimony in court;
- Prompt return of stolen property, if allowed by law, when no longer needed for prosecution of the case;
- Intercession services to ensure cooperation by the person’s employer to minimize loss of pay or benefits due to cooperation;
- A secure waiting area during court proceedings away from the defendant and his or her friends and family;
- Information about procedures to follow to claim witness fees or victim compensation;
- Information about the right to be present throughout entire trial, subject to sequestration orders;
- Opportunity to be present at (or be informed of) final sentencing or disposition in the case;
- Notice that a court proceeding to which the person was subpoenaed will not take place;
- Have a victim impact statement prepared and considered by the court;
- Information about any plea bargains in the case;
- Information that a civil remedy may be available, and that statutes of limitations apply in civil cases;
- Upon written request: notice before any proceeding is held at which the release of the offender is considered, if the offense was a class G felony or higher;
- Upon written request: notice if the offender escapes or is released from custody, if the offense was a class G felony or higher;
Family members of homicide victims are entitled to all the same protections just described. See G.S. 15A-825(13). Legal assistants in the district attorney’s office are responsible for coordinating efforts within the law enforcement and judicial system to ensure that these statutory rights and protections are observed. See G.S. 15A-826. Finally, similar to the CVRA above, this statute does not create any civil or criminal liability on the part of the state or its agencies and employees. See G.S. 15A-827.
Offenses and Victims Covered by the Statutes
Required vs. Recommended
Regardless of whether a particular offense falls within the scope of either set of statutes, most district attorney’s offices try to provide victims and witnesses with notices, status updates, opportunity for consultation, and information about court proceedings in every case. But the specific statutory authorizations and requirements listed below are still important because they ensure that the victim’s rights to participate in sentencing and disposition, and to be kept informed about post-conviction proceedings and the defendant’s release status, are observed and respected by all parties and the court system.
- Crime Victims’ Rights Act
Under G.S. 15A-830, a “victim” entitled to the rights and protections of the CVRA is defined as anyone against whom there is probable cause to believe that one of the following crimes was committed:
- Any Class A through E felony.
- Abduction of children (G.S. 14-41).
- Assault inflicting serious bodily injury (G.S. 14-32.4).
- Assault on a handicapped person (G.S. 14-32.1(e)).
- Assault on an executive, legislative, or court official with a deadly weapon or inflicting serious injury (G.S. 14-16.6(b) or (c)).
- Assault on emergency personnel with a dangerous weapon or substance (G.S. 14-288.9).
- Assault with a firearm or deadly weapon on a government officer/employee or campus/company police officer (G.S. 14-34.2).
- Assault with a firearm, deadly weapon, or inflicting serious bodily injury on a firefighter, emergency medical technician, or emergency room nurse or physician (G.S. 14-34.6(b) - (c)).
- Common-law robbery (G.S. 14-87.1).
- Domestic abuse or neglect of a disabled or elder adult causing injury or serious injury (G.S. 14-32.3(a)-(b)).
- Felonious restraint (G.S. 14-43.3).
- Felony death by vehicle (G.S. 20-141.4).
- Habitual impaired driving (G.S. 20-138.5).
- Habitual misdemeanor assault (G.S. 14-33.2).
- Human trafficking of adults (G.S. 14-43.11).
- Involuntary manslaughter (G.S. 14-18).
- Participating in the prostitution of a minor (former G.S. 14-190.19).
- Patient abuse/neglect causing serious bodily injury (G.S. 14-32.2(b)(3)).
- Second degree arson (G.S. 14-58).
- Second degree burglary (G.S. 14-51).
- Second degree sexual exploitation of a minor (G.S. 14-190.17).
- Stalking, second or subsequent offense or when a court order is in effect (G.S. 14- 277.3A or former G.S. 14-277.3).
- Taking indecent liberties with children (G.S. 14-202.1).
- Third-degree sexual exploitation of a minor (G.S. 14-190.17A).
- Any attempt of the felonies listed above if the attempt is punishable as a felony.
The following apply only when the offense is committed between persons who have a personal relationship as defined in G.S. 50B-1(b). These include: current/former spouse; persons of opposite sex who live or have lived together or who are in or were in a dating relationship; parents/children; grandparents/grandchildren; child in common; current or former household members.
- Assault by pointing a gun (G.S. 14-34).
- Assault inflicting serious injury or using a deadly weapon (G.S. 14-33(c)(1)).
- Assault on a female (G.S. 14-33(c)(2)).
- Domestic criminal trespass (G.S. 14-134.3).
- Simple assault or affray (G.S. 14-33(a)).
- Stalking, first offense (G.S. 14-277.3A or former G.S. 14-277.3).
- Protective Order Violations
- Any violation of a valid protective order under G.S. 50B-4.1.
- Fair Treatment for Certain Victims and Witnesses
Under G.S. 15A-824, a “victim” entitled to the protections of the Fair Treatment for Certain Victims and Witnesses statute is defined as any person against whom there is probable cause to believe that a “crime” has been committed. The term “crime” is broadly defined to include “a felony or serious misdemeanor as determined in the sole discretion of the district attorney, except those included in Article 46 of this Chapter [the CVRA], or any act committed by a juvenile that, if committed by a competent adult, would constitute a felony or serious misdemeanor.” Finally, a qualifying “witness” under this statute is any person expected or likely to be called to testify by the state in a felony case, even if the criminal proceeding has not yet commenced. See G.S. 15A-824.