In response to:
The Plight of the Victim from the March 6, 1980 issue
To the Editors:
Given the distaste with which, according to Professor Hughes (NYR, March 6), victims of violent crime are regarded, it is perhaps foolhardy or naïve to write. Nonetheless, readers who found his argument persuasive may wish to consider the following.
On October 30, 1978, I was assaulted in Oakland, California. My right hip was broken, I was hospitalized for two weeks and, of course, was unable to resume teaching any of my classes that semester. After three months had elapsed, I was able to return to teaching, thanks to a reduced assignment, the assistance of a cane, and the steel pin placed in my hip. This last was removed during a second (mercifully shorter) hospital sojourn in January of this year. As a memento of my experience, I am left with a right leg permanently shorter than its mate by one and one-quarter inches and a no less permanent limp, among other things.
Meanwhile, what of the assailant and the courts? In my case, there was no question of guilt or innocence, a fair or unfair trial: the criminal was arrested at the scene of the crime. He was initially charged with felonious assault with intent to commit great bodily harm. Subsequently, the Alameda County District Attorney’s office lowered the charge to misdemeanor assault in exchange for a plea of nolo contendere. The assailant did not receive a jail sentence but was placed on three years’ probation and ordered to pay restitution to the victim of his crime. Thus far, however, he has not paid a single cent nor given any indication that he ever will. To recover some of my costs, I am now forced to bring civil suit against this person. My attorney, who has been paid in advance, tells me it will take at least another year before my suit can be placed on a calendar, longer than that if the defendant—that is, the assailant—requests a jury. His plea of nolo contendere in the criminal proceedings, incidentally, is not admissible in the civil trial.
In light of the foregoing, it is conceivable that some may wish to give more than passing scrutiny to Professor Hughes’s closing sentence: “There may be good reasons why the adversarial aspect of our criminal trials should be modified but they mostly have to do with unfairness to the defendant, and have no connection with the plight of the victim of crime.”
El Cerrito, California
PS. California has, or claims to have, a program to compensate victims of violent crimes for losses arising out of those crimes. I have been told, however, that the program administrators are still processing applications from the mid-’70s; my own application, made at the beginning of February 1979, has yet to be acted upon. On balance, my suggestion would be that the state quietly “put to sleep” victims of violent crime. The outcome would be speedier in this event and it might even be, who knows, kinder as well.
May 1, 1980