Wisconsin lawyers, local leaders and victim advocates are marking National Crime Victims’ Rights Week with a series of discussions meant to inform the public about their rights as victims of crimes.
Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin presented its first virtual roundtable on Monday. The conversation brought together speakers from the Milwaukee area to present information about victims’ rights provided under Marsy’s Law, passed by voters in April 2020.
“This is really an opportunity for us who work in the system to give you some really practical information about victims’ rights,” said Miriam Falk, an assistant attorney general at the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
The panelists drew attention to the role of systems and community advocates in guiding victims through the legal process. Marianna Rodriguez, director of Milwaukee’s UMOS Latina Resource Center, said advocates also serve as emotional support, assess safety risks and identify resources for victims and coordinate with the district attorney’s office.
“When (victims) don’t have an advocate to help them every step of the way, you can lose them,” Rodriguez said. “It takes a lot of reiterating and re-educating about all of different steps of court.”
Milwaukee County has a victim witness services program that works with various local organizations. Matthew Torbenson, a deputy district attorney in Milwaukee County, said he’s proud of the office’s advocacy and support of victims.
He said Marsy’s Law has given prosecutors a new way to protect victims and their interests. He’s used the law to give victims anonymity in filings, keep victims’ personal information private and have records sealed, keeping victims’ information out of the public eye and away from defendants.
Courts already had a backlog of cases prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Torbenson said, and with just four Milwaukee County criminal courts open for jury trials now, victims are subject to even longer proceedings.
“It is incumbent upon the prosecutor and our victim advocates is to keep victims fully informed,” Torbenson said.
Marsy’s Law for Wisconsin is holding two more virtual roundtable discussions with Eau Claire and Dane County leaders this week. Registration and panelist information can be found online.
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week started Sunday and runs through Saturday.
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