By Kathy Cady
April 24-30 is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. This year’s theme is Rights, access, equity, for all victims. It underscores the importance of helping crime victims find justice by enforcing victims’ rights, expanding access to services, and ensuring equity and inclusion for all.
For crime victims in Los Angeles County, rights and access is now a rallying call. Since taking office, their elected District Attorney, George Gascón, has ignored their rights and limited their access. It is because of these actions victims of crime initiated the recall of George Gascón.
Crime Victims Have Constitutional Rights
We all know that criminal defendants have rights – we hear the Miranda admonition every time we watch a crime show.
But crime victims also have rights. (California Constitution Article I, Section 28, and Penal Code §679.02). Victims’ Constitutional Rights are known as Marsy’s Law Rights, named for Marsy Nicholas who was murdered by a former boyfriend. https://www.marsyslaw.us/marsys_story
First and foremost, victims have a right to justice and due process. (California Constitution, Article I, Section (b)). These rights are personal to each victim and apply to each case. The purpose of mandating victims’ rights is to ensure that they have a voice in the criminal justice system. (California Constitution Article I, Section 29(b)).
But rights are meaningless unless they are enforced. State law mandates prosecutors, law enforcement, and judges to faithfully protect these rights. (California Constitution Article XX, Section 3; Penal Code 679).
Over the course of Gascón’s term, he disregarded these rights and mandates. Upon taking his oath to uphold the law, he issued blanket policies ordering prosecutors to dismiss allegations in pending cases with no consideration for notifying victims as is required by law. (Special Directive 20-08). He ordered most conduct enhancements not be filed in new criminal filings. (Special Directive 21-01). He issued policies ordering prosecutors to keep all 16 and 17 year old juveniles charged with murder and other violent crimes in juvenile court, regardless of the nature of the facts of the case or record of the juvenile. (Special Directive 20-09). All of these policies ignored victims.
Victims who were given assurances that prosecutors would attend parole hearings with them, were abandoned because Gascón’s blanket policy prohibited prosecutors to participate in parole hearings. (Special Directive 20-14). Victims traumatized by crime, now must navigate the parole process alone.
Victims Have a Right to Receive Services to Help Them Heal
Victims have a right to receive services to help them heal. (Penal Code 13835(a) and Government Code 13950). For 40 years, Victim Service Representatives in the Bureau of Victim Services have been doing this important work. But “rights” are not “services.” Gascón confuses the two. Victims are traumatized by the crime. When their rights are violated, they are retraumatized by this new violation and by feeling that the criminal justice system has failed them. Gascón’s response to re-traumatizing victims by violating their rights is to offer them services. An analogy would be to deliberately violate a criminal defendants’ rights and then offer to give them therapy, rather than correcting the violation of their rights. The criminal justice system does not and should not work that way for defendants. It is offensive to treat victims that way.
When victims have been hurt by crime, they want justice and resources to help them heal. Justice means holding the offender accountable. Murder victims’ families and victims of forcible sex crimes, gang shootings, and other violent crimes usually want the defendant sent to prison for a long time so that they are safe and society is protected from further violence.
Another concern is Gascón’s appointment of Tiffiny Blacknell – a career public defender who has disparaged law enforcement and has advocated for abolishing all prisons, as the Interim Director of the Bureau of Victim Services in charge of all victim services in Los Angeles County.
Blacknell has said that she believes the entire criminal justice system needs to be dismantled. She has likened incarceration to caging people and expressed support for closing all prisons.
On one of her social media sites, Blacknell posted a picture of herself wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the following words: “THE POLICE ARE TRAINED TO KILL US.” Blacknell has called police “barbarians” and posted on a social media site, “[The police] were never supposed to protect us!!!! It’s not what they do.”
Former Prosecutors Network to Help Victims Assert Their Rights
Crime victims have a Constitutional right to have an attorney enforce their rights. California Constitution Article I, Section 28(c)(1). In January 2021, several former prosecutors started getting requests to represent crime victims whose cases were being negatively impacted by Gascón’s policies. An informal group called Marsy’s Law Attorneys formed to provide pro bono representation for victims. These attorneys can be contacted through [email protected]
Since January 2021, the Marsy’s Law attorneys have represented close to 300 victims. Most of these victims are next of kin and family of murder victims.
Families of murders victims have expressed that they feel abandoned by Gascón’s policies, and that their voices have been silenced. Gascón’s administration has now issued an edict that prosecutors and advocates are precluded from notifying victims about this group of former prosecutors. Gascón would even deny victims pro bono help from qualified and experienced attorneys who stand ready to help them assert their rights through the parole process.
Crime victims are now standing up against Gascón. It was crime victims who initiated the Recall DA George Gascón campaign. Victims deserve “rights, access, and equity for all victims” every day – not just during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. To honor victims’ voices and give them a forum to be heard, the Recall campaign is holding events every day during National Crime Victims’ Rights week and invite you to join us:
Monday, April 25 12 – 1 pm Pomona Courthouse
Tuesday, April 26 12 – 1 pm Hall of Justice, Los Angeles
Wednesday, April 27 12 – 1 pm Torrance Courthouse
Thursday, April 28 12 – 1 pm Antelope Valley Courthouse
Friday, April 29 12 – 1 pm Long Beach Courthouse
Saturday, April 30 Signing events throughout the County
Kathy Cady is one of several former prosecutors who are providing pro bono assistance to crime victims in response to Gascón’s policies.