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.
Anita Alvarez State’s Attorney of Cook County
Victim Witness Assistance Unit
The mission of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office – Victim Witness Assistance Unit is to strengthen and enhance victim assistance services, as well as the quality of services to witnesses through advocacy and court support in prosecution processes. Additionally, the unit guarantees immediate and respectful response, marked with professional, thorough, and consistent efforts.
The Victim-Witness Assistance Unit of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office puts serving victims at the top of their priorities and holds it as their most important obligation. The Illinois Rights of Crime Victims and Witnesses Act mandates the public servants to bear the responsibility of providing victims with information and social service referrals. As such, the Victim-Witness Assistance Unit strives to provide victims and witnesses consistent, meticulous, and professional assistance.
In 1999, the United States Department of Justice recognized the efforts of the Victim-Witness Assistance Unit, to which the unit received the National Crime Victim Service Award. With this, the unit continuously makes every effort to provide the finest and most suitable services to victims and witnesses.
The Victim-Witness Assistance Unit was founded in 1981 and built upon the guiding philosophy that victims and witnesses be catered upon, and receive services according to their needs, including being informed about the status of the case, acquiring referrals to outside agencies and support groups, among others legal aid. Since then, the Victim-Witness Assistance Unit remained to be one of the largest and most comprehensive prosecutor-based victim-witness advocacy operations in the nation. The unit currently serves over tens of thousands of victims and witnesses involved in felony cases. It provides specialized services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, gang crimes, misdemeanor, and felony. Furthermore, the need for disabled victims, members of the LGBTQ+ community victims, senior victims, and the family and friends of homicide victims are addressed. Victims with post-conviction cases are also provided with assistance through appeals and parole hearings by the specialists. The Victim-Witness Assistance Program is divided into several units and serves in 15 different locations.
Victims and witnesses are provided with different services, including reception, tours, guidance, and advocacy in the courtroom, crisis intervention, assistance, and service referrals, and receiving information on the judicial system, criminal justice process, legal terminology, victim’s rights, and court procedures. Assistance in varying ways is also available, such as aid in the preparation of Victim Impact Statements, return of property used as evidence, resolving case-related problems, case status information, and homicide compensation, and other violent crime claims. The unit also offers referrals to other services as they see fit, including crisis intervention and social services agencies, mental health programs, public aid, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, rape victim treatment programs, shelters, civil legal assistance, and compensation assistance. Moreover, the training of court personnel and Assistant State’s Attorneys on victim’s cases are also extended to the victims, as well as landlord, employer, school, creditor, and law enforcement intervention. The coordination of five adult homicide support groups, a children’s support group, an adolescent support group, monthly informational series, annual homicide victim’s memorial service is also a part of the services the unit offers, including arranging possible transport to courts, such as ambulance and Medicare services.
The Victim-Witness Assistance Program indeed provides a number of services in order to ensure high-caliber service and guarantee victim-witness centered assistance. The unit takes its service beyond in-person court support, guidance, and counseling by providing financial aid with the help of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office – Program and Development Unit. In this capacity, writers work with victims and witnesses to secure funds essential to the needs of victims and witnesses in the court system. The Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority and the Illinois Attorney General’s Office currently financially supports one-third of the program. Collaborations with community organizations and several other law enforcement agencies allow the Victim-Witness Assistance Program to provide the finest, most suitable, and most comprehensive system of services to victims and witnesses alike.
The Rights of Crime Victims and Witnesses Act of 1984 was made into existence and mandated by the General Assembly to protect the interests of crime victims and witnesses in Illinois. Statutory rights afforded to victims and witnesses of violent crimes were subsequently amended to the state’s Bill of Rights in 1992. This entails respectful and fair treatment to victims and witnesses, and ultimately, to provide a more just system. In 1994, the aforementioned rights were extended to include victims and witnesses involved in juvenile offenses.
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 ensures that the crime victims are informed of their rights upon initial contact with the criminal justice system by the appropriate authorities, and shall have standing to assert their rights in trial and appellate courts, as is to be conspicuously posted in all’ court facilities.
“Crime Victim” or “victim is defined in the Act with the following meaning: victims of violent crime and misdemeanor, which result in death or direct physical or psychological harm to the individual.
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.
What is the Crime Victim’s Compensation Act?
The Crime Victim’s Compensation Act of 1973 provides financial assistance to eligible victims of violent crime and their families, with up to $27,000 financial compensation for a specific out-of-pocket expense, including medical costs of loss of earnings. There are limits to which financial compensation applies, such that property loss, pain, and suffering are not included. Claims to financial assistance must be filed within two years from the date of the crime, or within a year of the criminal indictment.
Financial assistance brought by this Act shall only be a secondary source of compensation, which implies that the applicant must first exhaust all other sources reasonably available, such as government aid, or medical and health insurance programs.
How is the claim decided?
The Illinois Attorney General’s Office brings organized and evaluated documents from sources for claims analysts to produce an investigative report, which will be filed with the Court of Claims. The Court of Claims, located in Springfield, is responsible for making the final decision, in which a copy of the decision will be 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 Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has victim-witness specialists as a part of their Victim-Witness Assistance Program who are available for assistance in filing for compensation. The specialists are competent and knowledgeable of the law’s requirements and work closely with the claim personnel at the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. Application and supporting documents required by the claims analysts will be forwarded to the Attorney General’s Office by the victim-witness specialist. Furthermore, the specialist will verify processing, as well as follow up on the process to ensure the timely disposition of the case.
What crimes are compensable?
- First Degree Murder
- Second Degree Murder
- Involuntary Manslaughter
- Reckless Homicide
- Aggravated Kidnapping
- Aggravated Assault
- Aggravated 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
- Child Pornography
- Exploitation of a Child
- Domestic Battery
- Violation of Order of Protection
- Hate Crime
Attempts of the crimes above (i.e., Attempted First Degree Murder, etc.) are also compensable.
Who can file a claim?
The following may file for compensation:
- Any individual who is directly physically harmed in the commission of one of the violent crimes listed above
- A parent or guardian of the victim who is a minor under legal disability
- A relative of the deceased victim who pays or incurs reasonable funeral and/or medical expenses
- A relative who is a dependent of a deceased victim
Annual Homicide Victim’s Memorial Service
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office hosts a Victim Memorial Service annually, to serve as a special tribute to victims of violent crimes and their families, and to support survivors of violent crime.
This unique service is in its 20th year, which has continuously grown and has become a significant event in the county where people gather to reflect on the memories of their loved ones, as well as of the other victims of violent crime.
Testimonials, music, and prayer are provided in support of each other. Over 100 memorial picture boards of homicide and reckless homicide victims are also to be seen at the service—a candlelight tribute, where inspirational words and encouragement are shared with visitors. The tribute concludes the service and symbolizes the commitment of the community to end the tragic cycle of violence.
The Victim-Witness Assistance Unit may be reached for more information on the memorial service at (773 674-7200.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office – Victim-Witness Assistance Unit
2650 S. California – 1st Floor
Chicago, IL 60608
Updated: August 8, 2020