PROTECTION OF CHILD, DISABLED, AND ELDERLY VICTIMS LAW AND FUNDING
This new law serves to protect the rights of child, disabled and elderly victims. Under this law, a Judge may appoint a guardian ad litem, if it is determined that there is no one available who is able to adequately assert the victim’s rights. Once appointed, the function of the guardian ad litem will be to ensure that victims who are minors, disabled, or elderly are afforded the rights provided to them by law. The Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention provided funding to the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center for a new staff attorney to serve as a guardian ad litem for victims who are minors, disabled, or elderly. This new law became effective on Oct. 1, 2014.
ALEX’S LAW – STATEMENT BY VICTIM OR VICTIM’S REPRESENTATIVE
Alex’s Law (named after an actual victim) requires a court in a sentencing or disposition hearing to allow a victim or the victim’s representative to address the court under oath before the court imposes a sentence or makes another disposition in a case. For the victims of violent crimes the opportunity to briefly speak before a court and describe the impact on their lives can help them find resolution and move on with their lives.
Prior to this change, the law provided that courts “may” allow victim impact statements. As such, a victim or victim’s representative was only authorized to address the court if a request was made by the prosecuting attorney or if the victim had filed a notification request form. Not unexpectedly, the filing of a notification request form was often overlooked by the victim or the victim’s representative who are dealing with the stress of the crime or the devastation brought on upon learning of the death of a loved one. Months later, some victims found themselves denied the opportunity to address the courts.
Under the new law, Maryland legislators use the stronger language of “shall,” to clarify their intent while still allowing a judge discretion to deny victim impact statements when allowing such statements would be unpractical. As a result, a victim or victim’s representative does not have to rely on a request submitted by the prosecuting attorney and may request permission to address the court during the sentencing or other disposition phase regardless of whether they have previously submitted a notification request form.
The Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center, Inc. (MCVRC) provided legislative drafting assistance and advocated for this statutory change. As part of its counseling and legal assistance functions MCVRC assists victims and victim’s representatives secure their right to address the court and assists them in crafting their statements. This law significantly enhances the goals of the MCVRC.
The law was approved in April 2014 and took effect on October 1, 2014.
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