House OKs 3 bills on victims rights

One bill creates review teams to look at deaths or injuries involving domestic violence

Posted: Tuesday, February 24, 2004

A trio of victims rights bills passed the House on Monday, including a measure to analyze events surrounding domestic violence fatalities.

A growing number of homicides in Alaska are related to domestic violence, supporters said. In Anchorage, 11 of 18 homicides in 2002 fit into that category.

House Bill 398 would allow the state Department of Public Safety and municipalities in Alaska to review cases of death or serious injury involving domestic violence.

"It's a very serious issue in this state," said Public Safety Commissioner William Tandeske. "It is so incredibly important to learn from these events and be proactive in preventing further acts."

Under the measure, review teams could include police, district attorneys, a medical examiner, social service workers and counselors.

The measure was approved by a 31-0 vote, with nine House members absent.

Stephen Branchflower, head of the Alaska Office of Victims' Rights, proposed the legislation as part of a package of victims rights bills now before the Legislature.

Similar so-called "peer review" panels are in place in 25 other states, Branchflower said. Many of the records used during the review process would be confidential, Branchflower said.

House Bill 397, which restricts defense attorneys from interviewing juvenile victims of sexual assault without their parents' permission, passed the House 34-0.

Also approved was a measure to require police and prosecutors to inform victims of their rights.

House Bill 348 would require law enforcement to hand out brochures published by the Office of Victims' Rights, which was created by the Legislature in 2002.

"We have called it at times the other Miranda warning," said Rep. Ralph Samuels, R-Anchorage, a co-sponsor. "If you are going to tell a criminal his rights, you should inform a victim of theirs."

Laws in Alaska give victims the right to be notified of court hearings and plea agreements, as well as other rights.

The bill requires police and prosecutors to inform victims of felonies and some class A misdemeanors about the office.

Branchflower said his office has fielded nearly 350 complaints from crime victims since July 1, 2003, and they frequently center around bail hearings or plea agreements.

Often his watchdog agency is contacted too late in the criminal justice process to help victims, he said.

House Bill 348 was approved 34-0. All the measures now go to the Senate for consideration.

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