- Berkshire District Attorney's Office
Media Contact for Berkshire District Attorney’s Office Honors Victims’ Rights Week
Andrew McKeever, Director of Communications
BERKSHIRE COUNTY — The Berkshire District Attorney's Office honors Victim Advocates, Assistant District Attorneys and all public safety professionals for their tireless work in ensuring victims have a meaningful role in the criminal justice system, are supported, and are connected with the resources they need to heal.
This week is National Crime Victims' Rights Week and the theme is "Rights, access, equity, for all victims."
The Massachusetts Victim Bill of Rights (M.G.L.c258B) exists to ensure crime victims and witnesses are informed, present, and heard at important stages in the criminal matter involving them.
The team of 14 Victim Witness Advocates in the Berkshire District Attorney's Office work to inform and enforce Victims' Rights across the county and are available in each criminal court. Advocates provide vital services to victims, witnesses, and families of crimes who have the right to be notified of significant developments in the case involving them and the right to information on how to access social services. Advocates help engage with community support systems and minimize the trauma victims and families endure in the aftermath of crime.
"Victim Witness Advocates are under-recognized for their vital role in the justice system. The work they do every day lifts the voices and stories of victims. I thank every advocate for their dedication to this important job because the justice system fails without empowered victims at the center of all of our work," District Attorney Andrea Harrington said.
"My office remains committed to expanding equity of services to all victims and witnesses of crime to help anyone traumatized by violence begin to heal."
VWAs also help to ensure other rights such as a victims right to be heard, to be present at all court hearings, to request to wait in a safe and secure waiting area separate from the defendant, to decline or to set boundaries to their participation with Defense Counsel interviews, to certain protections if threatened or intimidated for their participation in a trial or court proceeding, and the right to apply to the state's Victim of Violent Crime Compensation fund to obtain out of pocket expenses incurred as a direct result of a violent crime.
One of the most important rights a VWA can help uphold is the right of a victim or of family members of a homicide victim to make a victim impact statement, which describes in their own words the emotional, physical, psychological, and financial impact after a crime.
Victims submit the impact statement to the court in writing, verbally, or read into the record by an Assistant District Attorney. It lets the victim's voice be heard at a critical stage in the process and provides the court with additional insight into the true impact of crime. This statement also includes an opinion on sentencing.
The Berkshire District Attorney's Office expanded the role of victim witness advocates. The team now supports families of victims of fatal overdoses, suicides, and hate incidents regardless of whether or not there is a pending court case. The office launched a language line to allow victims and witnesses to speak with advocates in the language they are most comfortable speaking. The office added advocates specializing in motor vehicle homicides, post-conviction services, and hate crimes.
The office launched a Victim Witness Advocate information line – 1-(855)-ASKVWAS – so victims, witnesses, and families seeking justice can easily connect directly with an advocate. Advocates assist with safety planning, referrals to confidential counseling, social services, help with obtaining restraining or harassment orders, and will answer questions about the criminal justice process and the possible outcomes to those who call or text. These services are particularly beneficial to domestic and sexual violence victims to make informed decisions about their participation and know what to anticipate.
Berkshire advocates also worked closely with Civil Legal Aid to develop an enhanced screening process to ensure all victims have equal access to services that fit their unique needs and participated in a forum with the Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance to share the experiences victims from Berkshire County had in accessing restitution to help guide statewide changes to improve the process.
The office also certified 14 UVISA applications to provide undocumented immigrant victims and witnesses of crimes a pathway to citizenship.
District Attorney Harrington advocated for the passage of state bills that would expand access to services for victims, strengthen the notification process and place a greater emphasis on victim impact statements in court, and to use American Rescue Plan Act funding to provide additional funds to the Victims of Crime Act grant program.
Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington’s office serves all 32 cities and towns in Berkshire County. The office represents the Commonwealth in more than 7,500 criminal cases per year in Berkshire Superior Court, three district courts, three juvenile courts, Massachusetts Appeals Court, and Supreme Judicial Court. The office works closely with the State Police Detective Unit assigned to the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office, the Berkshire Law Enforcement Task Force, and collaborates with local police departments across the county. A dedicated staff of more than 50 prioritizes public safety, empowering victims and witnesses through services and support, and building a safe community for everyone and especially the most vulnerable.