Tue, Nov 18, 2014
2:00pm - 3:00pm
Hazel B. Kerper Courtroom
As Victim Assistance Coordinator for the Texas Attorney General’s Office, Karen Martin’s job is to aid victims in criminal cases, focusing mainly on surviving family members in capital murder cases. Occasionally, that means accompanying the victim’s family to the execution.
“You are a familiar voice, a familiar person,” said Martin, who has worked in victim services since 1995. “Most of the victims’ families, I have never met in person, but they at times want me to be there to the end. I am honored by that.”
In capital cases, Martin often works with families for years, notifying them about legal proceedings in cases or outcomes of appeals. She often accompanies family members to trials or hearings and advises them about financial and counseling assistance available through the Crime Victims Compensation Fund. She informs them the rights of victims in the system and about the victim impact statement, which provide a voice for the families in sentencing, plea bargains and parole.
“They really just want information,” said Martin. “People really want to be kept up to date on what’s happening."
The appeals process in capital murder cases is long and complex. Following the trial and sentencing, the convicted offender is automatically entitled to an appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the highest court with criminal jurisdiction in the state. They also can file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. The capital murder offender also may pursue a state habeas corpus review, an appeal that raises issues outside of the trial record. If unsuccessful, the defendant can take the habeas corpus review to the federal level, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the U.S. Supreme Court. Finally, the offender may apply for executive clemency from the Board of Pardons and Paroles. When all appeals are exhausted, an execution date is set.
The victim’s family has the right to be present at the execution and is given five seats in the gallery. The victim representatives are briefed before the execution by watching a video and by familiarizing themselves with the death chambers and the activities that will take place. The victim advocate continues to be available to the family before, during and after the process.
“Once an execution is over, families and friends have complex reactions,” according to a briefing on the Attorney General’s web site. “Despite feelings of relief, one can also still feel very empty and depressed. While some may feel that justice has been served, others might still feel upset. The execution may in some cases trigger new emotions. There is no right or wrong way to feel. Whatever the reaction to the execution, it is a personal reaction. The Victim Services Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice is available throughout the process.”
In addition to the Attorney General’s Office, Texas law enforcement departments and District Attorneys’ offices are required to have liaisons to assist victims of violence crime through the criminal justice process. Among the rights afforded to victims in Texas are: protection from harm or threat; safety consideration in setting bail; information on court, prosecutor and parole proceedings; information about the Crime Victim Compensation Fund and the ability to file a victim impact statement. These rights also extend to family members, including dependents or those related by blood or marriage.
To make newly-appointed victim liaisons and Victim Assistance Coordinators aware of provisions for victims, Martin also serves as a trainer for law enforcement liaisons, prosecutor offices and advocates working with agencies that assist crime victims.
Martin said she loves her job and has been very successful at leaving the work at the office.
“My job is very rewarding,” said Martin. “I love to help victims, and I love to do the training, and I am really good at leaving it at work. There are boundaries. However, some cases make more of an imprint, and some people call more often than others and I get to know them well. “
Martin said there are many job opportunities in the victim assistance field at police departments, district or county attorney offices, probation departments, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Some positions require a college degree while others need a counselor’s license.
Martin suggests that students interested in working in the field get volunteer experience in victim service offices. Many local police departments, such as Austin, Waco and Arlington offer these opportunities. “Having a degree with this volunteer training experience helps,” Martin said.
The presentation will also be available live on the web at www.cjcenter.org/live.