A surprising theme that emerged is the role of the prosecution and their interactions with victims. Prior research reflects that victims feel detached from the justice system if they are not actively interacting with a prosecutor . From these responses, it is clear that prosecutors generally are not interacting with victims, even in a simplistic way. Each of the ten participants independently state that prosecutors do not normally interact with victims at a significant level, and victims often are left confused and without critical information.Craig, an defense attorneys with eight years of experience, explains that from his perspective,
“The prosecution only uses victims when they need them, and often times they have very little information given to them. So they’ll bring them to court when they need some warm bodies or to gain some sympathy but in reality they don’t care about them at all.”
According to Craig’s statement, victims are not a critical part of the justice system, but a pawn used to push a case through the justice system. He suggests that victims are not supported by the prosecution, but instead, manipulated. Sarah reinforces Craig’s statement when she too states that “I feel that too many times the [prosecutor] only deals with [victims] when it’s important for their case.” Ashley describes the impact of this lack of interaction between victims and prosecutors when she states that she often see victims who are “really rebuffed by [the prosecution] who is allegedly there for [the victims]”, which leaves victims without any sort of information and true 30 understanding of what is occurring with their case. Within this sample, three participants state that some of their interactions with victims occur due to the lack of interaction between victims and prosecutors. Sarah uses an example to describe how a victim’s lack of information lead to her own interaction outside of a courtroom. She states,
“The family said [to me] ‘so is the execution date going to be set for next week?’ Well, you know, they had no clue that this was a years, years, years long process and frankly that was four or five years ago and the guy still hasn’t been executed. And you know, I just thought, that’s awful that they have this inaccurate idea of what’s going on”
Because the victim has little understanding of what is occurring within their own case, the victim turns to Sarah, the defense attorney, for answers. Ashley describes a similar instance during her interview where she was sought out by a victim after a trial.
“I’ve actually been at a hearing for a death penalty case and the victim’s family came up to me to ask questions because the prosecutors had already left the room and didn’t even speak to the family. [The prosecutors] didn’t give them an overview of what just happened, and so I sat there for an hour just talking to the family.”
In these instances, the lack of victim-prosecutor interactions is leading to victim-defense a interactions that are not planned or initiated by the defense attorneys themselves. This is problem for the victim-prosecutor relationship. If victims are having negative experiences with prosecutors, then according to prior literature, victims should then have negative feelings about the justice system and possibly, other legal authorities .This could also put pressure on the defense to ensure that victims have the right answers to their questions and that they too do not cause victims to have negative experiences.
Prosecutors also limit the interactions between defense attorneys and victims. Several of the participants explain that prosecutors often tell victims not to talk to the defense counsel. David, an attorney with eleven years of defense experience, explains that,
“There are some prosecutors who tell victims point blank ‘don’t talk to the defense attorneys or anyone else’ which is unethical and inappropriate but it happens anyway and you’ll never know or find out.”
In David’s opinion, not only do prosecutions directly limit the interactions between defense attorneys and victims, but they do so in a way that is offensive to defense attorneys. According to David, prosecutors do not have the right to limit victim-defense interactions. This sort of response by David could be the very reason that Sarah feels that the CVRA has a negative impact on the rights of the defendant.
“Furthermore, Craig reinforces David’s statement when he states, The prosecution or the district attorney office people tell the victim not to interact with the defense counsel or they strong advise them not to. So a lot of times if you try to talk to a victim you run into an air of hostility, they already have the idea that the defense is their enemy…and the prosecution or the DA’s people are feeding that mentality.”
According to Craig, prosecutors also contribute to idea of the adversarial justice system by setting the defense attorney up as the adversary of the victim. The adversarial justice system causes issues when trying to promote victim outreach by defense attorneys because victims might perceive defense attorneys as their literal enemy in court. Carl, an attorney with thirty years of experience, comments on this exact issue of the adversarial justice system, but also says something very profound. He states, “the key is that [victims] can’t look at the defense as adversarial. We are adversarial to the prosecution, we aren’t adversarial to victims.” This distinction is one that is very important when thinking about the adversarial justice system and its implications. However, to what extent victims actually see defense attorneys as adversarial is an important question to consider. If it is consistently implied by the prosecution that the defense counsel is the victim’s adversary, then it would make sense that victims would be hostile towards defense attorneys.
Victims may be limiting their interactions with defense attorneys themselves due to a combination of emotional trauma and prosecutorial limitations. Victim frustrations towards the defense may only be increased by their lack of interactions with the prosecution. Though Sarah and Ashley describe instances where victims came to them for answers because of the prosecution’s lack of guidance, some victims may decide to detach themselves altogether from attorneys, assuming that the system is flawed because the prosecution did not fulfill their expectations. These findings show that the interactions that occur between victims and legal authorities ultimately do affect the interactions between victims and other legal authorities. Understanding how these interactions affect other authorities is important in creating a justice system that is more fluid, as well as opening up communication between the various legal channels to ensure that positive outcomes occur for all those involved.