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Victim Witness


Message from State’s Attorney Alvarez to Victims of Crime

Before I was elected State’s Attorney in 2008, I served as a prosecutor in the office for more than two decades. It was inside and outside these courtrooms that I learned the value of the Victim-Witness unit. These dedicated professionals work day in and day out literally holding the hands of crime victims and witnesses to explain the sometimes confusing legal system and provide support in very difficult times for these vulnerable citizens. This section of our website outlines the vital service they perform in our office.

~ Sincerely,
Anita Alvarez State’s Attorney of Cook County

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Victim Witness Assistance Unit

The mission of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office Victim Witness Assistance Unit is to enhance prosecution efforts by delivering the highest quality of services to victims and witnesses in the areas of advocacy and court support. Our outreach efforts will be immediate, and our response will be respectful, professional, thorough and consistent.

Serving victims is our highest priority and our most important obligation. Providing victims with information and social service referrals is a responsibility mandated by the Illinois Rights of Crime Victims and Witnesses Act. Our efforts were recognized in 1999 when the U.S. Department of Justice honored us with its National Crime Victim Service Award, the only prosecutor’s office in the country to be so honored. Since then we have striven to improve in our efforts to provide victims and witnesses the most professional service we can.

We know the court process can be a confusing and frightening time for crime victims. Our unit was created in 1981 with the guiding philosophy that victims should be afforded their place in the system, informed about the status of the case, supported as the legal process proceeds, and referred to outside agencies and our own support group when additional help is needed.

Our Unit is one of the largest and most comprehensive prosecutor-based victim advocacy operations in the country, serving tens of thousands of victims and witnesses of felonies across the county. Specialized units work solely in Juvenile Court and the misdemeanor domestic violence and sexual assault courtrooms. We also have specialists assigned to Traffic Court, appellate review and post-conviction cases. In addition, we address the needs of the disabled, GLBT and senior communities with specialists trained in the community resources and issues relating to these underserved populations. Victim-witness specialists guide victims and witnesses through the criminal justice system in 15 locations, providing court orientation, information on the Illinois Bill of Rights for Crime Victims and Witnesses as well as providing necessary support and referrals. Special courtroom tours for children and their parents can be scheduled in advance of the court date in order to familiarize the victims and witnesses with the room in which they will later testify. A typical day for a victim-witness specialist will include accompanying victims, witnesses and the families of victims to court, answering questions about the court process, assisting with the preparation of Victim Impact Statements, intervening on behalf of the victims and witnesses with landlords, employers and schools, and assisting families in seeking counseling as well as financial assistance for costs related to their victimization.

Besides providing in-person court support, victim-witness specialists co-facilitate a monthly support group. The support group is scheduled on the third Saturday of every month at the Criminal Courts Building located at 2650 S. California, where we work with licensed therapists. The support group not only provides a needed outlet for anger, frustration, hurt and loss, but it also offers basic court information and answers to other questions about the criminal justice system. The homicide support group is offered to children, adolescents and adults who have lost loved ones to a homicide.

Through the office’s Programs and Development Office, grant writers work with Victim Witness to secure funds needed to address the most critical needs of victims in the court system. Currently, funding is received from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office to support one-third of the program.

Another important component of the Unit is networking with community organizations, the victim advocacy community and other law enforcement offices to provide the most comprehensive system of services to victims and witnesses.

Victim Rights

To protect the interests of crime victims and witnesses in Illinois, the General Assembly passed the Rights of Crime Victims and Witnesses Act in 1984. Subsequently, in 1992, the statutory rights afforded to the victims and witnesses of violent crime were amended to our state’s Bill of Rights. The basis of the act is to afford victims and witnesses the right to be treated with respect, fairness and dignity. The spirit of the law is also intended to make the system more just. In 1994, these rights were extended to include victims and witnesses of juvenile offenders.

Article I. Section 8.1 of the Illinois Constitution provides:

Crime Victims*, as defined by law, shall have the following rights as provided by law:

(1) The right to be treated with fairness and respect for their dignity and privacy throughout the criminal justice process;

(2) The right to notification of court proceedings;

(3) The right to communicate with the prosecution;

(4) The right to make a statement to the court at sentencing;

(5) The right to information about the conviction, sentence, imprisonment and release of the accused;

(6) The right to the timely disposition of the case following the arrest of the accused;

(7) The right to be reasonably protected from the accused through the criminal justice process;

(8) The right to be present at the trial and all other court proceedings on the same basis as the accused, unless the victim is to testify and the court determines that the victim's testimony would be materially affected if the victim hears other testimony at the trial;

(9) The right to have present at all court proceedings, subject to the rules of evidence, an advocate or other support person of the victim's choice;

(10) The right to restitution.

The Rights of Crime Victims and Witnesses Act requires that:

A statement and explanation of the rights of crime victims shall be given to a crime victim at the initial contact with the criminal justice system by the appropriate authorities and shall be conspicuously posted in all court facilities.

“Crime Victim” has been defined in the Rights of Crime Victims and Witnesses Act to mean victims of violent crime as well as victims of misdemeanors, which result in death or great bodily harm to the victim. 725 ILCS 120/3.

Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office
Rights of Violent Crime Witnesses in Illinois

Article I. Section of the Illinois Constitution provides:

Witnesses*, as defined by law, shall have the following rights as provided by law:

(1) To be notified by the Office of the State’s Attorney of all court dates within a reasonable amount of time prior to the proceeding, and to be notified of the cancellation of any scheduled court proceeding in sufficient time to prevent an unnecessary appearance in court, where possible;

(2) To be provided with appropriate employer intercession services by the office of the State’s Attorney or the victim advocate personnel to ensure that employers of witnesses will cooperate with the criminal justice system in order to minimize an employee’s loss of pay and other benefits resulting from court appearances

(3) To be provided, whenever possible, a secure waiting area during court proceedings that does not require witnesses to be in close proximity to defendants and their families and friends;

(4) To be provided with notice by the Office of the State’s Attorney, when necessary, of the right to have a translator present whenever the witness’ presence is required.

The Rights of Crime Victims and Witnesses Act requires that:

A statement and explanation of the rights of crime victims shall be given to a crime victim at the initial contact with the criminal justice system by the appropriate authorities and shall be conspicuously posted in all court facilities.

“Crime Witness” has been defined in the Rights of Crime Victims and Witnesses Act to mean any person who personally observed the commission of a violent crime and who will testify on behalf of the State of Illinois in the criminal prosecution of the violent crime.

Financial Assistance for Victims and Families

Common Questions Asked about the Crime Victim’s Compensation Act

 

What is the Crime Victim’s Compensation Act?
How is a claim decided?
Can the State’s Attorney’s Office assist with these claims?
What crimes are compensable?
Who can file a claim?

 

What is the Crime Victim’s Compensation Act

The Crime Victim’s Compensation Act was enacted in 1973 and provides financial compensation to innocent victims of violent crime and their families. Eligible victims or their family members receive compensation for certain out-of-pocket expenses, medical/hospital expenses or loss of earnings. There is no compensation for property loss or pain and suffering and the claim must be filed within two years from the date the crime was committed, or within one year of the criminal indictment.

Compensation under this program is a secondary source of compensation. The applicant must first exhaust all other sources reasonably available, including, but not limited to any governmental, medical or health insurance programs.

How is a claim decided?

The Illinois Attorney General’s Office gathers and evaluates documents given to them by the claimant and other sources. An investigative report is then prepared by the claims analyst and filed with the Court of Claims. The Court of Claims (in Springfield) makes the final decision. The copy of the decision is mailed to the claimant within 15 to 24 months.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office does not administer the compensation fund.

Can the State’s Attorney’s Office assist with these claims?

The State’s Attorney’s Office has victim-witness specialists available to assist crime victims filing for compensation. They are familiar with the law’s requirements and work closely with the claim staff at the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. They will forward the applications and the supporting documents to the Attorney General’s Office for processing and follow up for a timely disposition of the case.

What crimes are compensable?

  • First Degree Murder
  • Second Degree Murder
  • Involuntary Manslaughter
  • Reckless Homicide
  • Aggravated Kidnapping
  • Kidnapping
  • Aggravated Assault
  • Assault
  • Aggravated Battery
  • Battery
  • Heinous Battery
  • Reckless Conduct
  • Aggravated Criminal Sexual Assault
  • Criminal Sexual Assault
  • Aggravated Criminal Sexual Abuse
  • Criminal Sexual Abuse
  • Sexual Relations Within Family
  • Driving Under the Influence
  • Aggravated Arson
  • Arson
  • Child Pornography
  • Exploitation of a Child
  • Domestic Battery
  • Violation of Order of Protection
  • Stalking
  • Hate Crime

Also any Attempts of these same crimes, i.e. Attempted First Degree Murder, etc.

Who can file a claim?

Any person who is physically injured in the commission of one of the violent crimes listed above; a parent or guardian of a minor victim or a victim under legal disability; a relative of a deceased victim who pays or incurs reasonable funeral and/or medical expenses; and a relative who is a dependent of a deceased victim may file for compensation.

SPECIAL EVENTS

Annual Homicide Victim's Memorial Service

Each year, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office hosts a Victim Memorial Service as a special tribute to victims of violent crime and their families as well as those who have survived violent crime.

This unique service began over 20 years ago and has evolved into a significant event where people can come together to reflect on the memories of their loved ones and other victims of violent crime through moving testimonials, music, and prayer.

Over 100 memorial boards with pictures of homicide and reckless homicide victims are displayed at the service.  Inspirational words of encouragement and hope are also shared during a candlelight tribute, which concludes the service and symbolizes the commitment to end the tragic cycle of violence in our communities.

If you would like more information on the memorial service, please contact the Victim Witness Assistance Unit at (773) 674-7200.

Contact the Victim Witness Assistance Unit

The Victim Witness Assistance Unit of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office can be reached by:

Telephone:
(773) 674-7200

Mail:
State’s Attorney’s Office Victim Witness Assistance Unit
2650 S. California – 1st Floor
Chicago, IL 60608