Rights of Victims in Criminal Cases
The Washington State Constitution and Washington statutes guarantee certain rights to victims of crimes in Washington state. The Washington State Constitution, Article I, Section 35 states in relevant part:
Upon notifying the prosecuting attorney, a victim of a crime charged as a felony shall have the right to be informed of and, subject to the discretion of the individual presiding over the trial or court proceedings, attend trial and all other court proceedings the defendant has the right to attend, and to make a statement at sentencing and at any proceeding where the defendant’s release is considered, subject to the same rules of procedure which govern the defendant’s rights. In the event the victim is deceased, incompetent, a minor, or otherwise unavailable, the prosecuting attorney may identify a representative to appear to exercise the victim’s rights.
RCW 7.69.030, the "Crime Victim's Bill of Rights" sets forth the ways in which the State safeguards the rights of victims, surviving family members, and witnesses to crimes, by requiring the State to: notify victims and witnesses of court dates, cancelled subpoenas, plea agreements, and the outcomes of cases; provide help in application for benefits, aid, leave from work, and other rights afforded to victims and witnesses; provide emotional support and reasonable protection to victims and witnesses when they are interviewed or questioned at trial; and other important aid.
While our office does frequently contact and work with victims of crimes, and make attempts to ensure their safety and comfort, our office is legally unable to and does not represent victims and witnesses to crimes, and maintains prosecutorial independence as a representative of the County and State in criminal courts.
PLEASE NOTE THAT YOU ARE NOT OBLIGATED TO COOPERATE WITH PROSECUTION OF THE CASE TO BE ELIGIBLE FOR VICTIMS' SERVICES FROM OUR OFFICE-- EVEN IF YOU REFUSE TO TESTIFY AGAINST THE DEFENDANT OR DO NOT WANT CHARGES FILED, YOU WILL STILL QUALIFY. EVEN IF YOUR CASE WAS REFERRED TO OUR OFFICE, BUT NOT CHARGED, YOU ARE STILL ELIGIBLE FOR SERVICES.
Essentially, if we have a police report that alleges that you are the victim of a crime, we can provide you with victim services.
The Columbia County Prosecuting Attorney provides a Victim/Witness Advocate, Rebecca Coaly, thanks in large part to two grants received from the State of Washington and the federal government through the Department of Commerce. Rebecca is available to answer questions from victims and witnesses about the court process, to help fill out paperwork for state crime victim compensation funds, to connect victims and witnesses with counseling and other services available in the community, and to sit with victims and witnesses during interviews or while waiting for court. Our office also has limited funding available to help with emergency expenses for victims and impacted witnesses that are a direct result of the crime. We have cell-phones, meal cards, and other resources available to us for these emergency situations.
Generally, in a criminal matter in which an individual is a victim or witness, our office will request either a no-contact order (either an anti-harassment order, or a domestic violence no-contact order), and will generally request that the defendant's pretrial release order include an order against contacting the victim or any witness. If you are a victim or witness and want the protection of an order against contact, please contact us to make sure we know.
Before a plea agreement is extended to any defendant, we make every effort to contact victims to inform them of the agreement. While we give great weight to the input of victims, please be aware that a number of factors go into our decision in plea bargaining, including the strength of evidence, availability of necessary witnesses or experts, presentation of testimony, extraordinary trial costs, and other factors; even if a victim is opposed to a plea offer, we may still make the offer if it is the best possible outcome of the case.
If you suffered any monetary losses as a direct result of the crime committed against you, you are entitled to an order of restitution in the resolution of the case. Restitution is money that a defendant has to pay to reimburse you for your losses. Restitution is paid to the Clerk of Court, and then distributed to victims. Restitution is paid before any fines, fees, or other court costs, and interest accrues. You may also sue the defendant in civil court with a private attorney or small-claims court, whether or not you receive restitution.
Victim Impact Statements
At sentencing in a criminal case, a victim is entitled to make a Victim Impact Statment. This usually takes the form of a letter to the judge, or a simple narrative “story” of your experiences. You can write about the emotional, financial, and personal impact that a crime had on you and your family. The Victim Impact Statement is reviewed by the judge prior to sentencing and becomes part of the court record. Our Victim/Witness Advocate can assist you in preparing this statement. In addition, victims can address the court at sentencing, or our Advocate or an attorney can read your statement into the record if you are not comfortable speaking in court.
The State of Washington provides a tracking program that allows you to sign up for notifications when a defendant is released from jail or prison. VINE is a free, anonymous, computer-based service where anyone can see if an offender is currently in custody. In addition, victims may choose to register for an automated call, text, or email when an inmate is released. To reach VINE, call 1-877-846-3492.
DOC Find an Offender Search
If you know that an individual is in prison custody, but do not know which Washington prison he or she is in, the Department of Corrections Inmate Search allows you to search for an inmate by name. DOC also allows you to search for active DOC warrants on this site.
Release of Property
In all cases, we make every effort to return property that has evidentiary value to the rightful owners as soon as possible. When the items are not needed as evidence at trial, we try to allow for return of the property within 30 days.
Sometimes, a photograph of the property can be used at trial instead of the actual items themselves; however, please understand that in some cases it is far more impactful or helpful to the jury to see the actual items involved in the case, and a photograph may not be as strong of evidence as the actual items.
U and T Visas
The federal government has created two visa programs for which victims of human trafficking (T visa) or certain other crimes (U visa) may qualify if they have been helpful in the investigation or prosecution of crime. Instructions for completing the application and Form I-918, Supplement B for U visas and Form I-914, Supplement B for T visas are available on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration website www.uscis.gov. The application for certification may also be submitted by an immigration attorney on the victim’s behalf.
Qualifying Crimes for a U visa (Please note these are general categories and not names of specific crimes in Washington):
Abusive Sexual Contact
Female Genital Mutilation
Fraud in Foreign Labor Contracting
Obstruction of Justice
Unlawful Criminal Restraint
Other Related Crimes*†
*Includes any similar activity where the elements of the crime are substantially similar.
†Also includes attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of the above and other related crimes.
If you are in doubt as to whether you were a victim of a qualifying crime, you may submit an application to the Prosecuting Attorney's Office; the application will be denied if we determine that the crime involved is not a qualifying crime.
You must be the victim or an indirect victim of the qualifying crime as these terms are defined under federal law. Generally, indirect victims are family members of the victim, such as the parent of a minor victim. Witnesses who are not also victims or indirect victims are not eligible.
The Prosecuting Attorney's Office does not sign certifications if this office did not file criminal charges arising out of the incident where you were a victim, but you may submit your application to the law enforcement agency that investigated your incident.
The Prosecuting Attorney's Office considers applications on a case-by-case basis. We're unable to consider applications if we have not received a referral from law enforcement for prosecution. We notify the defense counsel in any open case that you have sought certification.
If you are facing imminent deportation, please inform us of this fact when you send in the application and provide enough detail that we can verify the need for immediate action.
Please send applications to:
Columbia County Prosecuting Attorney
Attn: Rebecca Coaly
215 E. Clay St.
Dayton, WA 99328
State of Washington Crime Victims' Compensation Page (Includes FAQ on qualifications and eligibility)
YWCA of Walla Walla (Our community partner in providing services and support)