Thursday, April 20, 2017

DCJ Staffer Played Pivotal Role in Colorado Victim Rights Amendment

Tony Tilger speaks at an event commemorating the
25th anniversary of the Colorado Victim Rights Act. 
On April 3, 2017, Division of Criminal Justice staffer Tony Tilger joined Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, numerous victims' services representatives, and the daughter of Dave Sanders (the teacher slain in the Columbine High School shooting) to commemorate 25 years of Victim Rights in Colorado.  The event was part of national Victim Rights week.

Tilger shared his recollections of  what it was like for victims 25 years ago, prior to Colorado's adoption of the Victim Rights Amendment.  Tilger played an important role in Colorado's adoption of the groundbreaking amendment, which enumerates the rights that victims of crime are entitled to in Colorado.

Tilger originally became interested in the rights of crime victims in the 1980s, when he was employed by a lobbying firm that assigned him to work on legislation for tougher sentencing laws for convicted criminals, including sex offenders.  As he prepared witnesses to testify on the bill, he was introduced to a 4-year-old girl who had been sexually assaulted and then left in the bottom of an outhouse on Lookout Mountain. Seeing the effects that the crime had on her and her family left a lasting impression on Tilger and increased his interest in victim's rights.

The stricter sentencing legislation eventually passed, but Tilger realized there was a lot more work to be done for victims in the state of Colorado.  In 1990, Governor Roy Romer appointed Tilger as the legislative representative to the Victims Board staffed by the Division of Criminal Justice to oversee funding decisions for federal Victim of Crime Act monies. Following a failed retention bid for his seat in the Colorado House of Representatives, Tilger was asked by members of the Board and victims community to serve as the Executive Director of the Colorado Victims Constitutional Amendment Network, which had formed to advocate for the passage of a crime victims’ rights amendment.

On November 3, 1992, Colorado voters overwhelmingly approved the Constitutional Amendment for Victims’ Rights, and the legislature almost unanimously approved the enabling legislation.

At the time there were very few states that had Constitutional rights, and Colorado was on the leading edge of the movement. To date, 35 states have adopted Constitutional amendments for victim rights.

In his remarks on April 3, Tilger reminded the audience of just how far victims’ rights have progressed since the passing of the Victim Rights Amendment (VRA) and enabling legislation 25 years ago.

Tilger highlighted one particular case from the 1982 Presidential Task Force Report on Victims of Crime; the case demonstrates how dire the need for victim rights was in the past, and how important it is that we continue to advocate for victims.  Fortunately, most of the issues related to how Ms. Doe was treated by the criminal justice system in 1982 would not happen today because of the passage of the VRA. We have reprinted excerpts of the story here in honor of victims like Jane Doe, and all victims whose rights we fight to protect.

Ms. Doe was asleep one night in her Colorado home when she was sexually assaulted.  The perpetrator also steals some items from the house and threatens Jane if she calls the police.  Police arrive at the scene, take photographs and dust for fingerprints.  When Jane tells them she was sexually assaulted, the police officer drives her to the hospital for a sexual assault exam.  Jane sits alone in the hospital for hours until an intern physician, who is clearly agitated for having been awakened to conduct the exam, arrives.  The intern really hates it when he is dragged into court to testify.  After the exam, Jane pays for a cab home in her hospital gown as all of her clothes have been taken for evidence.  Jane feels alone, and is upset to learn that when she gave her home address to the police, the defense lawyer and press would now also have that information.  The next day Jane begins to get calls from security companies offering to sell her security systems for her house.

Jane learns that the attacker has been arrested, not from law enforcement, but from phone calls she begins receiving from him at the jail.  The judge orders the offender not to contact Jane, but does nothing when he is told of the phone calls.  Jane is not told when the offender is released, and only finds out that he has posted bail one day when she is walking to work and turns the corner only to be confronted by him.  Jane still tries to return to some sense of normal, but it is hard when the police detectives show up at her place of employment, unannounced, and ask to see her.  They don’t explain to her co-workers why they are there, and the co-workers can only guess.  Then there is the call at 1 a.m. to come to the police station to look at a photo line-up.  Jane is subject to the stares of the defense attorney, who sits next to her during the line-up.  

A few weeks later, Jane receives a subpoena for a preliminary hearing from the District Attorney’s Office.  She does not know what a Preliminary Hearing is, and has not been contacted by anyone from the District Attorney’s Office to this point.  

The day of the preliminary hearing finally arrives and Jane arrives at court to meet the prosecutor for the first time.  The prosecutor rushes into the waiting room and asks Jane if “are you the one that was raped”?  After a couple of minutes of conversation, the prosecutor sends Jane out to a bench outside the courtroom to sit alone.  

In the hallway, Jane sees the perpetrator and his team of friends walk by and laugh at her.  Jane was not told that the attacker would be there.  Jane waits for two hours before the Deputy District Attorney finally emerges from the courtroom and is “surprised” that she is still there.  He tells her that the case was continued for month.

This process is repeated four more times before there is an actual preliminary hearing.  Each time Jane has to hire a babysitter, take time off work, pay for parking, and wait for hours.  The Court or the District Attorney don’t seem to care.  Jane is never asked by the Court or DA if the new dates are convenient for her.  Each time Jane uses up sick leave and vacation time to go to court.  

Finally, the Preliminary Hearing takes place.  Jane was not prepared for the Preliminary Hearing. The defense attorney is relentless, and treats her in a way he could never treat a victim in front of a jury. The defense lawyer asks Jane if she has moved since the alleged attack, and she must tell everyone, including the defendant sitting next to his lawyer, her new address.  The judge threatens to hold Jane in contempt if she doesn’t reveal her new address, and the DA does nothing to object.

The case is eventually scheduled for trial.  There are three mornings when Jane is psychologically prepared for trial, takes off work and goes to court, only to find out the case has been continued. Jane calls to speak to the prosecutor and is told the case has been re-assigned to a new prosecutor. Months go by and no one tells Jane what is going on.  

When a trial date finally appears promising, Jane has a family reunion out of state.  Jane asks the Court if the trial can be postponed for a week; she is told that the Defendant has the right to a speedy trial, and the case would not be continued.  Jane stays home from the family reunion. The case is continued once again at the request of the defendant.  

Time passes and Jane learns the defense lawyer has filed several motions.  No one informs Jane about the status of the case, or consults with her about her wishes in the case.  Jane is not told of the numerous plea offers the prosecutor has made to the defendant.

Eighteen months later, the case finally goes to trial. Jane sits in the waiting room with the defendant’s family and friends. The defense attorney has subpoenaed Jane’s therapist and all of her notes for all the world to hear. Jane finally testifies, and would like to watch the rest of the trial, but she cannot. Jane is a subpoenaed witness and is sequestered from watching the trial. 

The jury returns a guilty verdict. Jane now looks to the Court to impose a fair sentence. Jane is surprised when no one ever asks her how the crime has affected her and her family. At sentencing, the Court hears from the defendant, his friends, his minister and his family.  Jane asks the Court for permission to address the court, and is told that she is not allowed to do so.

The Court sentences the defendant to three years.  Jane is never told that the defendant will probably actually be out in less than 18 months.  Jane is never informed when the defendant will actually be released, or if he is up for Parole.  Even so, Jane would not be allowed to speak at the Parole hearing.  Jane asks for the items from her house back that were being held for evidence, but is told she can’t have anything because the defendant has the right to appeal the conviction.
Today, the VRA ensures that victims in Colorado have the right to be informed at every stage of the criminal justice process, to have their voices heard, and to be treated with dignity, fairness and respect.

Tilger credits the strength of victim rights in Colorado and passage of the VRA to a few driving forces: historical events that led to the formation of a Presidential Task Force in 1981; the tenacity of  Bob Preston, who moved to Colorado after leading the Constitutional Amendment fight in Florida, where his daughter had been murdered; and the Colorado Victims Constitutional Amendment Network and supporters, who took the best language from states that had passed Constitutional rights to draft what became Colorado’s VRA.

Tilger joined the Office for Victims Programs in the Division of Criminal Justice in December of 1997, where he continues to work with victims and victim service agencies.

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