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Victims' Bill of Rights Committee begins finalizing updated code recommendations

Delaware Legislative Hall
Delaware Public Media
Delaware Legislative Hall

The Victims’ Bill of Rights subcommittees submitted their final recommendations for review in an effort to revamp current code.

Delaware’s Victims’ Bill of Rights (VBR) has not received a comprehensive review since it was enacted in 1992, and the VBR Committee has been working to provide an updated list of rights for those affected by certain crimes.

Several of the committees' recommendations highlight technical changes and the refining of definitions in the VBR, but they also include new initiatives to increase transparency within law enforcement and expand the rights of the victim.

The Victim Safety Subgroup is recommending the creation of a Victims' Bill of Rights Ombudsperson to ensure the compliance of the VBR, as well as the requirement of each law-enforcement agency to compile an annual report outlining their compliance to the bill of rights.

The subgroup is also recommending adding language to establish the victim's right to review the body worn camera footage of their individual statements made to the police and designating a supervisor at each law-enforcement agency to receive, review and address complaints of noncompliance with the VBR.

The Victim Safety Subgroup Chair Angela Seguin presented adding a right for immigrant victims not to be detained by law enforcement or turned over to federal immigration authorities unless there is a judicial warrant. She said other states have this included in their VBR.

The subcommittee is also recommending adding the right to have a victim advocate present at specific events within the criminal process.

“We feel like victims of sexual assault, victims of domestic violence and stalking, children, people with cognitive disabilities – there are many special victims who need to have a victim advocate present," Seguin says.

They are also recommending expanding victims' access to notifications about the proceedings of their case, including whether the Department of Justice has decided to move forward with prosecuting a case, when a court date is rescheduled or canceled and when there is a pending change or an actual change in the defendant's custody or sentence status.

The Victims’ Compensation and Administrative Subgroup Chair State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown) spoke on recommendations to revamp the Victims' Compensation Assistance Program (VCAP).

VCAP aims to alleviate some of the financial burdens faced by victims, those that are directly related to the specific offense, by providing compensation for certain losses. This could include things like medical expenses, wage or income loss or moving/relocation expenses.

The subgroup is recommending the General Assembly remove the statutory limit for the Victims’ Compensation Fund. Currently, funding that exceeds $6 million goes back into the General Fund.

“The last thing that we would want is for money to go into the General Fund and then not have enough for reimbursement to victims that put valid claims into the VCAP fund," Pettyjohn says.

The report also urges state decision-makers to consider the potential impact reforms to fines and fees may have on the solvency of VCAP.

"When you have a speeding ticket, when you have a red light camera violation, when you go through the toll and don't pay your toll — some of those things that are added on to those citations go to fund the Victims' Compensation Fund, and with a lot of discussion going on right now as to reducing some of those fees, it's important to realize the long-term impacts of some of those discussions on things like VCAP," Pettyjohn adds.

Additionally, the subgroup is recommending the Department of Justice consult and partner with the Delaware State Funeral Directors Association to develop a Victims' Compensation Assistance Program funeral package.

Pettyjohn says the cost of funerals currently exceeds the funding provided by VCAP. The recommendation aims to develop one fixed-rate package to pay for burial and funeral expenses for a victim that funeral homes in the state would be able to provide.

Although it may not be in the committee's official recommendations, the subgroup is also asking the state to continue exploring the viability of a property restitution program.

Property crimes are not currently covered under VCAP. Pettyjohn says a restitution program may not be feasible now, but it could be something that is implemented in the future.

The Victim Bill of Rights Committee plans to offer a full report for committee members to vote on by its Feb. 27 meeting, then start finalizing proposed legislation to enact changes as quickly as possible

Before residing in Dover, Delaware, Sarah Petrowich moved around the country with her family, spending eight years in Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 years in Carbondale, Illinois and four years in Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2023 with a dual degree in Journalism and Political Science.