Despite some doubts regarding the need for it, legislation establishing a victim’s bill of rights has received unanimous support from the Chesterfield City Council on its first reading.
The measure, which amends the municipal court chapter of the city’s code by adding a new section spelling out a victim’s rights, will receive a second reading and be subject to final council action at a future meeting.
Provisions in the new section are designed “to ensure fair and compassionate treatment of victims” of violations of city ordinances and “to increase the effectiveness” of the city’s justice system.
Among other things, a victim’s rights include being reasonably protected from the accused and being treated with courtesy, compassion and respect. The victim also can request various items of information about due process and justice system procedures, notice of court proceedings, to be present at public court sessions and, in most cases, to be heard when the court is considering the release, plea sentencing or probation revocation.
Victims also are permitted to request restitution from a defendant and to seek a case’s speedy disposition.
During the public comment period at the Feb. 5 council meeting where the victim’s rights measure was on the agenda, Chesterfield resident Jon Lerman strongly supported the proposal.
If the council approves the ordinance, Lerman said Chesterfield would be the first city in the state to adopt such legislation and would be a trendsetter for other communities. Too often, he observed, victims of crimes are “lost in the shuffle” of the legal process.
But Councilmember Barry Flachsbart [Ward 1] took exception to any inference that Chesterfield’s police department, prosecuting attorney and municipal court are not already taking steps to ensure a victim’s rights. The only thing the proposed ordinance does is spell out what is already being done, he said.
Later, when the measure came up for its first reading, Mayor Bob Nation asserted that he did not know of any problems or complaints voiced by victims about how the city’s court system operates.
While supporting the measure’s goals, Flachsbart also asked why the ordinance proposal had been reviewed and recommended by the council’s Finance and Administration Committee instead of being assigned to the Public Health and Safety Committee. Flachsbart chairs the health and safety committee, while Tom DeCampi (Ward 4) heads the finance committee.
Councilmember Barbara McGuinness [Ward 1] argued that, while current city officials may be treating victims properly, the proposed ordinance is needed so that practices and procedures are codified to ensure similar requirements are maintained in the future.