Crime victims long have depended on prosecutors for justice. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Peggy Hay and Patricia Hay, sisters-in-law who were left widows by a reckless driver, say a plea bargain approved by the former Duchesne County attorney denied them theirs. They want the Utah Supreme Court to overturn the deal. From speaking up at sentencings to conferring with prosecutors, Utah victims are taking on a bigger role in criminal cases. Some, including the Hays, are represented by a free Salt Lake City legal clinic, one of eight in the U.S. funded by government grants.
The Hays sought the law clinic’s help because they allege they were deceived about Brandon Lane’s plea agreement, which gave him no time behind bars and allowed him to wipe the conviction off his record. Prosecutors deny that. Federal and state laws have altered the role of victims, moving them from witnesses to participants who have the right to be informed about significant court proceedings, attend hearings and have the opportunity to be heard. “Twenty years ago, it was really an exception to see victims speak at sentencings,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Lohra Miller. “Now, it’s an exception not to see them speak out.” Greg Skordas, who worked in the Salt Lake District Attorney’s Office when the victims’ rights movement was getting under way, said prosecutors were worried victims would gain the authority to block plea bargains. That hasn’t happened, said Skordas, now a defense attorney.