Vigil slated for victims

April 13, 1998|By MARLO BARNHART

Victims and survivors of crimes, accidents and other tragedies will meet at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 19, at the Hagerstown Seventh-day Adventist Church on Robinwood Drive for the annual vigil for Victims' Rights Week, April 19-25.

Jill Ritter will be there to offer her sympathy and compassion, a shoulder and a tissue if needed. But in her role as the victim/witness coordinator with the Washington County state's attorney's office, Ritter has a lot more to offer these days.

"Since October 1997, victim services have greatly improved," Ritter said.

When a crime is a felony and involves a victim, Ritter sends a crime victim notification form out within 10 days of the indictment or of charges being filed.

The victim can then give Ritter notice to keep them informed every step of the way through the legal system.

If the form is returned to sender, Ritter begins a search for the victim. If that is unsuccessful, Ritter must notify the Clerk of the Washington County Circuit Court.


"I wasn't in the loop before," said Clerk Dennis Weaver. Now his office keeps a copy of the victim's request to be notified and joins in the effort to keep everyone informed.

"Every court date is brought to the victim's attention, both by mail and by telephone," Ritter said. As always, it is the victim's choice whether to attend court appearances.

A five-year veteran in her position, Ritter said the new law really only spells out on paper what she has been doing all along - keeping victims informed every step of the way.

"We even send victims notice of appellate court proceedings," Weaver said. "It's a lot more paperwork but it's for the people, not for the bureaucrats."

Copies of the form also are provided to the Washington County Detention Center, Maryland Division of Correction and the Maryland Parole Commission.

Victims not only know about court appearances, but they know when inmates are to be released from jail or prison or if a parole hearing has been scheduled.

"At the local jail, the files of these felons are flagged so that the victims are called before that person is released," Ritter said.

The process actually begins with police who handle the initial investigations of crimes and have a pamphlet they hand out which details the rights of victims.

The pamphlet was developed by the Maryland State Board of Victim Services.

Anyone who wants a loved one's name read at the April 19 vigil may call Ritter at 301-791-3120.

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