When a person is accused of committing a crime, he or she is afforded a number of rights. Most of them have their basis in the U.S. Constitution and the guarantee of due process of law. The Constitution, however, does not address each and every right that a person may or may not have and is rather silent regarding the rights of those who have been victimized by the accused’s alleged crimes. Thus, the rights of crime victims have long been a topic for debate in legal circles and among the general public. Last month, the Connecticut Supreme Court handed down a ruling one such disputed right—a ruling that has left some people concerned about the transparency of criminal legal proceedings.
An Ongoing Criminal Matter
The issue was brought before the state’s highest court as the result of a ruling by a lower court in a sexual assault case. The defendant—a 46-year-old former teacher’s aide—is charged with sex crimes related to an ongoing sexual relationship she allegedly had with a 15-year-old boy, beginning when the boy was under her care at a preschool. She is also charged with molesting the boy’s 16-year-old friend.
Before the case was slated for trial, the prosecutors and defense lawyers engaged in informal, off-the-record, pretrial discussions about plea bargains in chambers rather than in open court. The attorney representing the 15-year-old alleged victim filed a motion so that he, as counsel) could be allowed to be present for those discussions. The trial court rejected the motion, and the appeal of the denial eventually reached the Supreme Court.
A Definitive Decision
The Connecticut Supreme Court ultimately sided with the trial court, pointing out that the state’s constitution—specifically the 29th Amendment—does not give criminal defendants the right to attend informal, in-chambers disposition discussions. Therefore, alleged victims and, by proxy, their attorneys, do not have the right to attend such discussions. In a concurring opinion, one justice pointed out the substantial difference between “disposition conferences” which take place on the record in open court and informal “chambers discussions.” Both the accused and the alleged victim have the right to attend in-court proceedings, but their presence during off-the-record conversations is not a guaranteed right.
The trial court judge determined that “the confidential nature of these discussions is a key component to their efficacy,” which is why victims and defendants cannot be part of them. Victims’ advocates, however, insist that the presence of a victim’s attorney does not mean that he or she needs to speak or contribute to the discussions. “This certainly makes things less transparent for the victims,” said James Clark, an attorney with the Victims’ Rights Center of Connecticut and counsel for the 15-year-old alleged victim in the case.
Facing Criminal Charges?
In any criminal case, the rights of both the accused and the alleged victim are important and must be protected to ensure a proper application of the law. If you or someone you love has been charged with a crime, an experienced East Hartford criminal defense attorney can provide the skilled guidance you need. Call 860-290-8690 to schedule a free consultation at Woolf Law Firm, LLC today.