Without victims, prosecutors wouldn't have much to do.
But ironically, victims have become the forgotten component of a complex criminal justice system - a system that sometimes treats victims with astounding callousness and disregard, contends 3rd District Judge Scott Daniels.Judges are not supposed to accept a plea bargain until the prosecutor confirms in writing that victims have been consulted.
The victim can't veto the negotiation. However, the victim supposedly has the right to know, says Daniels, chairman of the Governor's Council on Victims and member of the Commission of Justice in the 21st Century.
In cases involving child victims, court dates should not be postponed without good reason and without a written explanation. It's very traumatic for a young victim emotionally to cope with a case being dragged through the justice system.
And if an employer doesn't want to let a victim or witness off work to attend proceedings, a court authority is supposed to call and make arrangements.
But is this happening in Utah's state courts?
"Sometimes, but sometimes not, I'm sure," the judge said. "No one is checking to make sure."
Few victims stand up and testify against perpetrators during the sentencing hearings because they don't know it is their right.
"If a victim is willing to tell the judge what the sentence ought to be, a judge should encourage that. If someone has suffered an attack that not only affects their physical integrity but their emotional security for the rest of their lives, that victim deserves the chance to ask for a more severe punishment."
Victim rights look nice on paper, but no one is sitting in courtroom and checking files to protect a victim's involvement in the justice system.
"Ever since the year 1050 under Henry II in England, the idea has sprung up that the crime is not the victim's business. The problem is between the perpetrator and the government. The victim is just there to help you prove your case. The concept of a sort of a victimless system goes deep into our thinking and needs to be changed," Daniels said.
A year ago, Daniels fought for the state to hire a victims coordinator to network the maze of more than 100 victim organizations. On July 1, the position will be filled under the umbrella of the Crime Victim Reparations Office, with Daniels hopeful the coordinator's role will provide a central watchdog for victims.
"These people didn't choose to become victims of crime. They're people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Courts should put the victims back into the courtroom as active participants to lessen feelings of helplessness and facilitate healing in their disrupted lives."