Law to alert victims of violent crime before parole hearings

Published 11:27 am Monday, June 20, 2011

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

A recently signed law sponsored by an Alabaster state senator will help give victims of violent crimes more notice when their attackers are coming up for parole or pardon.

Senate Bill 47, which was sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, was signed into law by Gov. Robert Bentley on June 17.

Through the law, victims of violent crimes can enter their contact information into an online database and receive notification 30 days before their attacker is set to appear for a hearing with the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Before the new law was passed, the board mailed out paper notifications to victims, which sometimes reached the victims years after the attacker was pardoned or paroled, Ward said.

“The original victim notification bill was passed more than two decades ago, and they would just send out paper notifications to the victims,” Ward said. “That bill was passed even before the cell phone days. The new bill is a major update in the way victims will be notified.”

The new notification system will be automated, will allow victims to choose how, or if, they will be notified of a hearing and could save the state money and manpower, according to the Victims of Crime and Leniency organization.

Through the new law, the Board of Pardons and Paroles will not be allowed to hold a hearing unless the time, date and place of the hearing is sent at least 30 days to the attorney general, the district attorney who prosecuted and the judge who presided over the case, the chief of police or sheriff’s department of the municipality or county where the crime occurred.

Notice must also be sent to the victim named in the indictment, the victim’s representative or any other interested individual if they have enrolled in the automated notification system.

Everyone who is notified then has the option to either attend the hearing or give their views to the board in writing before any decision is made regarding the prisoner’s pardon or parole.

The new notification system covers crimes involving a class A felony, any felony involving violence, death or physical injury to a victim, any felony involving sexual assault, sexual conduct or sexual abuse on a victim, any felony involving sexual assault or a “lewd or lascivious act” on a child 16 or younger, child abuse or sodomy.

“Too often, victims are overlooked in the criminal justice system,” said VOCAL founder and Executive Director Miriam Shehane. “But our state’s public safety depends on victims to participate in the system to attain justice.”

Ward said the new law puts an emphasis on the victims of violent crimes, rather than the families of those who have been convicted of them.

“We felt it was time to rectify that problem,” Ward said. “This makes notifying the victims a priority, whereas the old law made the families of those who were coming up for parole or pardon the priority.”