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The Role of A Victim In A Criminal Prosecution

Florida's constitution provides for three essential rights for victims of crime. Victims of crime have the right to be present for all crucial court proceedings; they have the right to be informed by the State Attorney's Office of the status of the case; and they have the right to be heard before the court.

Victims do not have the right to control plea negotiations.

Unfortunately, elected State Attorneys are political figures and need to be zealous advocates for the rights of victims. For this reason, most State Attorneys' Offices - including Miami-Dade and Broward - give great deference to their victims when determining what to do with a case.

In other words, the victim many times gets to decide the plea that the state is going to offer.

Why is it that two accused people charged with the same crime (let's assume these hypothetical people have no prior criminal histories) may end up with different sentences?

Let's say that the first accused person is charged with grand theft auto. The alleged victim is okay with Pretrial Intervention (PTI) provided restitution is paid. The accused accepts the PTI offer, completes the program, and then expunges his record when his case is dismissed.

The second accused person is also charged with grand theft auto. Except this time, the alleged victim is very angry and is demanding that the accused serve jail time. The prosecutor offers a plea of an adjudication (conviction) and 364 days in county jail.

The prosecutor knows that this plea is unfair, but unless his or her division chief is willing to permit a plea that is against the wishes of the alleged victim or the judge is willing to offer a court plea, the first-time offender may be forced to go to trial and risk five years in prison or accept a felony conviction and one year in jail.

Diversionary programs, such as PTI, require the alleged victim's approval. This is mandated by statute. However, pleas offered by the state do not require victim approval. The alleged victim has a right to be informed of the process and to be told that a case is going to be resolved by way of a plea, but they do not have a legal right to set the terms of that plea.

If you are charged with a crime that involves an alleged victim, your case is much more difficult to resolve due to the fact that an alleged victim may be trying to control plea negotiations. The only way to get around that is to do a thorough job of preparing your case for trial.