About the Office of Victims' Rights

In 2001 the Alaska legislature passed a law that created a new agency called the Alaska Office of Victims' Rights (OVR). Its purpose is to help victims of crime obtain the rights they have under the Alaska constitution and statutes with regard to their contacts with criminal justice agencies in this state. The OVR was created in the nature of an Inspector General's office within the legislative, rather than the executive branch, as a way of avoiding conflicts within state government. It was also to ensure that the director and his staff would have the necessary independence to investigate criminal justice agencies and make appropriate recommendations, in their effort to help crime victims and their families. The law, which may be found in Alaska statute (AS) 24.65.010-.250, went into effect on July 1, 2002.

The term "victim" has a very specific meaning in Alaska's law. The Alaska legislature has defined it very broadly in order to protect not only the person who was the actual and direct target of a crime committed by the person responsible for that act (who is referred to in the law as the "perpetrator"), but also that victim's immediate family. In order to obtain the services of the OVR you must fall within the broad legal definition of the term "victim" found in Alaska statute 12.55.185 (16), which is as follows:

"Victim" means:

(A) a person against whom an offense has been perpetrated;

(B) one of the following, not the perpetrator, if the person specified in (A) of this paragraph is a minor, incompetent, or incapacitated:

  • (i) an individual living in a spousal relationship with the person specified in (A) of this paragraph; or

  • (ii) a parent, adult child, guardian, or custodian of the person;

(C) one of the following, not the perpetrator, if the person specified in (A) of this paragraph is dead:

  • (i) a person living in a spousal relationship with the deceased before the deceased died;

  • (ii) an adult child, parent, brother, sister, grandparent, or grandchild of the deceased; or

  • (iii) any other interested person, as may be designated by a person having authority in law to do so.

It is the policy of the OVR to not accept complaints from criminal defendants for investigation regarding events that are connected with any prosecution they were involved with, or which occurred during a time they were a criminal defendant. As used in this policy, the term "criminal defendant" means any person who is charged with any crime or who has been convicted of any crime and a period of less than 3 years has elapsed between the date of the person's unconditional discharge by the court on the prior offense and the date of the alleged violation of the criminal defendant's victim's right.

As a crime victim you have both constitutional and statutory rights. Your constitutional rights are those contained in Alaska's constitution. Statutory rights are those created by the Alaska legislature.

• Constitutional Rights

Article 1 Section 24 of Alaska's constitution guarantees crime victims the following constitutional rights:

  1. The right to be reasonably protected from the accused through the imposition of appropriate bail or conditions of release by the court;

  2. The right to confer with the prosecution;

  3. The right to be treated with dignity, respect, and fairness during all phases of the criminal and juvenile justice process;

  4. The right to timely disposition of the case following the arrest of the accused;

  5. The right to obtain information about and be allowed to be present at all criminal or juvenile proceedings where the accused has the right to be present;

  6. The right to be allowed to be heard, upon request, at sentencing, before or after conviction or juvenile adjudication, and at any proceeding where the accused's release from custody is considered;

  7. The right to restitution from the accused; and,

  8. The right to be informed, upon request, of the accused's escape or release from custody before or after conviction or juvenile adjudication.

• Statutory Rights

In addition to the above constitutional rights, crime victims in Alaska also have numerous statutory rights. Click here to see a comprehensive summary of your victim rights and the constitutional or statutory citations to all the above rights.

• Advocacy In Court On Behalf Of Victims

To accomplish the goal of assisting you as a crime victim and of giving force to the above rights, the OVR is authorized to protect your rights and advocate on your behalf in state court in all felony offenses where there is a statutory victim and all class A misdemeanors involving domestic violence or crimes against the person. A felony offense is a crime where the possible sentence upon conviction is one or more years in jail and a substantial fine depending on the class of felony. Class A misdemeanors are those crimes punishable by up to one year in jail and up to a $25,000 fine.

Additionally, OVR lawyers are permitted to address the sentencing judge on the victims' behalf when requested to do so by the victim and when the victim chooses not to personally make their victim impact statement to the judge.

• Investigation Of Complaints By Victims

If you are a victim of crime you have a right to file a written complaint with the OVR that you have been denied any of the rights established by Article 1 Section 24 of Alaska's constitution or the laws of this state as set forth above. The OVR is empowered to investigate your complaint and take appropriate action on your behalf regarding your contacts with criminal justice agencies. In conducting an investigation the OVR may:

  • (1) Make inquiries and obtain information considered necessary from justice agencies;

  • (2) Hold private hearings; and

  • (3) Notwithstanding other provisions of law, have access at all times to records of justice agencies, including court records of criminal prosecutions and juvenile adjudications, necessary to ensure that the rights of crime victims are not being denied; with regard to court and prosecution records, the victims' advocate is entitled to obtain access to every record that any criminal defendant is entitled to access or receive. (AS 24.65.120).

Some examples of information and records available to the OVR are police reports, witness statements, lab reports, photos, taped statements, grand jury proceedings and exhibits, officers notes, scene diagrams, dispatch records, autopsy reports, pre-sentence reports, access to all physical evidence, and more. All information and/or records obtained during any investigation, including information and records subpoenaed by the OVR, are deemed confidential. Click here to go to fill out an OVR complaint-request for assistance form.

A subpoena is a legal order requiring a person to appear at a specified time and place in order to provide documents, an object, or to answer questions under oath. It is a serious crime for a person to knowingly tell a lie when testifying. The director of the OVR is authorized by law to issue subpoenas to any person for any records or any object if he reasonably believes such items may provide information relating to a matter under investigation. He may also require the appearance of any person to give sworn testimony if he reasonably believes that person may have such information.

If a person refuses to comply with a subpoena issued by the director, he may file a motion with the superior court requesting a judge to issue a court order directing obedience to the subpoena. If the person persists in not complying, the person may be held in contempt of court by the judge and could be fined or jailed until the subpoena is complied with.

The law excludes certain persons who may not be subpoenaed by the director and they are:

  1. A justice, judge, magistrate or law clerk or a person acting under their direction;

  2. A member of a grand or trial jury;

  3. The person accused or convicted of the crime that is the basis for the investigation;

  4. A victim counselor concerning a matter made confidential by statute;

  5. A criminal justice agency concerning records that lead to the disclosure of a confidential police informant.

- The OVR is required by law to keep secret all matters and information, as well as the identities of all complainants or witnesses coming before the OVR, except insofar as disclosures of such information may be necessary to enable the OVR to carry out its duties and to support its recommendations. However, the OVR may not disclose a confidential record obtained from a criminal justice agency.

Within a reasonable time after an investigation is completed, and after the OVR reports their opinion and recommendations to a justice agency, the director of the OVR may present the opinion and recommendations to the governor, the legislature, a grand jury, the public, or any of these. The OVR must include with the opinion any reply made by the justice agency. Written consent from the complainant to release the OVR's report must be obtained prior to release of the report. Click here to see reports regarding recent investigations conducted by the OVR.

The OVR is required by law to ensure that their exercise of discretion does not interfere with any ongoing criminal investigation by a police agency or any criminal proceeding by the prosecutor's office. Additionally, the director must make sure OVR employees do not make public statements that lawyers are prohibited from making by the Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct. Finally, the OVR may not prevent or discourage a victim from providing evidence, testifying or cooperating in a criminal investigation or criminal proceeding.

• There Is Limited Judicial Review Of OVR's Actions

The OVR Act provides that a proceeding or decision made by the director of the OVR or his staff may be reviewed in superior court only to determine if it is contrary to the provisions of the statutes that created the OVR. It also provides that the conclusions, thought processes, discussions, records, reports and recommendations of or information collected by the director or his staff is not admissible in a civil or criminal proceeding, and is not subject to questioning or disclosure by subpoena or discovery.

A civil lawsuit may not be brought against the director of the OVR, nor a member of his staff, for anything they do or say, or that they fail to do or say, in the performance of OVR's duties or responsibilities.

Alaska law provides "A person who knowingly hinders the lawful actions of the victims' advocate or the staff of the victims' advocate, or who knowingly refuses to comply with their lawful demands, is guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction may be punished by a fine of not more than $1000."

The OVR is funded by money from convicts' forfeited permanent fund dividend (PFD) checks. Alaska statute 43.23.005 is the law that determines a person's eligibility to receive a PFD. A person is disqualified from receiving a PFD if during the dividend year they have either (1) been convicted of a felony, (2) spent time in jail for a felony conviction, or (3) jailed for their third misdemeanor conviction during the dividend year if they have ever been convicted of a felony at any time.

In the 2002 dividend year, 5,276 persons lost their PFD checks by operation of this law, which is an amount that totaled slightly more than $8 million dollars. Those funds are placed into an account that (either in whole or in part) funds the OVR, the Violent Crimes Compensation Fund, the Department of Corrections, and the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. It also funds grants to various non-profit victims' rights organizations for services to Alaskan victims of crime.

The director of the OVR is required to publish an annual report regarding the OVR's activities and to notify the legislature that the report is available. Click here for the OVR's annual reports.