91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
WVGR-FM is having technical difficulties and will be back on air as soon as possible. See other ways to listen here.

State law and courts disagree on who counts as a “victim”

Olivia Cowan
Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio

Lawmakers in Lansing have been working on legislation in response to the Larry Nassar case. And while they’re at it, some say they might want to clarify who counts as a victim when it comes to giving impact statements at a defendant’s sentencing.

Nassar is the former MSU sports doctor who will spend decades in prison for serial sexual assault. At his sentencing, women who were sexually assaulted, their parents, and even coaches were allowed to give an impact statement. But under current Michigan law, some of them shouldn’t have been able to.

Andrea Bitely is a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office. She said the voices of parents needed to be heard in the Nassar case.

“They are in many ways just as much survivors and victims of crime as the people who were truly wronged and truly hurt by the crime itself,” she said.

As written, the Crime Victim’s Rights Act only lets certain people qualify as “victims.” So when it comes to giving victim impact statements at a defendant’s sentencing, certain people don’t count as victims. In some cases, family members or other loved ones aren’t allowed to give statements under the Act.

But the Court of Appeals has routinely given victim status to people who wouldn’t technically be allowed to talk under the act.

A recent article in the Michigan Bar Journal calls on the state Legislature to amend the Crime Victim’s Rights Act to include more family members.

Bitely says the attorney general’s office will leave it up to the Legislature to decide what to do about the discrepancy, but a clarification might be timely.

“People who love the victims of the crime are in many ways victims themselves,” she said. “If you would like a chance to speak you should be given a chance to speak."

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R