It is important to realize that changes may occur in this area of law. This information is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem, and it is not intended to replace the work of an attorney.
What are victim offender meetings?
Victim-offender meetings (“VOM”) allow victims to meet face to face with the person who committed the crime against them. The process invites victims to participate in the justice system to hold an offender — usually a juvenile — accountable in a meaningful way. A trained mediator arranges for the meetings to occur. VOM is voluntary. Before victims and offenders meet, the mediator checks with each person to make certain that everyone is willing to attend the meeting. The mediator reviews ground rules that ask everyone to be respectful and truthful with each other. The mediator will also describe what to expect and answer any questions and concerns the victim and offender may have. At the victim-offender meeting, the offender talks about the crime and the victim talks about the impact the crime had on him or her and others. There is a discussion concerning how the offender can attempt to repair the harm that was done. The meeting usually ends with an agreement that could include restitution, suggestions for community service and commitments regarding future behavior.
What is the role of the mediator?
Mediators help the victim and his or her offender speak with each other in a safe and respectful way. Even if the mediator is an attorney, the mediator does not give legal advice when in the role of mediator. (Should the offender or victim want legal advice, they should talk with another attorney.) All of the mediators involved in victim offender meetings have been trained to do this work. They should have completed at least 30 hours of basic mediation training. Many have advanced training in mediation and other related topics.
Are victim-offender meetings open to the public?
Victim offender meetings are confidential. There are some things that are not confidential, and this is explained by the mediator before the meeting starts. Some of these exceptions to confidentiality include reporting threats to do harm to others and information about child or elderly abuse. Also, copies of the final agreement and written reports about the VOM may be sent to the court or referring agency. Notes can be taken at the meeting but are usually destroyed after the meeting ends. Everyone must agree to follow the confidentiality rules.
Typically, parents of the youth are encouraged to attend the meeting, although their role is generally limited. This allows the offender to be the responsible party. Although defense lawyers and prosecutors may attend the mediation, they rarely do.
What kinds of cases are referred to victim offender meetings?
Victim offender meeting programs usually accept property crime cases. Some programs will also accept person-to-person crimes, such as simple assaults. The more serious person-to-person crimes are usually not accepted for VOM.
Where can I find a VOM?
Most victim offender meeting programs are only available for juvenile offenders. They may be operated by the county juvenile department or a nonprofit agency that has a contract with the juvenile department. Some counties do not offer victim offender mediation. Check with your county’s juvenile department to find out.
How do referrals happen?
Most programs only take referrals that come from within the justice system. After a police report has been sent to the juvenile department, a juvenile probation officer or juvenile counselor or an assistant district attorney refers the case to VOM. Then the VOM program will contact the offender and victim. If you would like to participate and have not been contacted, it may help to call the juvenile department and ask to speak with the counselor, or call the assistant district attorney who has been assigned to your case.
Legal editor: Warren Oster, June 2008