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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: January 10, 2019 12:46 PM
From: Senator Kim L. Ward
To: All Senate members
Subject: Providing Support to Family Members of Murder Victims
I am re-introducing legislation to better support the surviving family members of murder victims as they cope with the sudden and violent loss of their loved one.

My bill will amend the Crime Victims Act to enable family members of a murder victim to be reimbursed from the Victims Compensation Assistance Program (VCAP) for earnings or support lost during their attendance at any court proceedings relating to the victim’s death. This would be limited to a parent, child, sibling, custodial grandparent or custodial grandchild of a murder victim.

Murder victims are unique among crime victims in that they obviously cannot be present in court for hearings or trials that are held. Their family members become very important in the prosecution of the defendant, particularly during proceedings when victim impact statements are given. Surviving family members must speak in these proceedings for themselves and the deceased victim who no longer has a voice of his or her own to be heard. To do so in person can create a financial burden at a time when the closest loved ones of a victim are carrying a very heavy emotional one. This legislation aims to provide some relief by removing the concern of lost wages of support while they are representing the murder victim in criminal justice system.

This bill will also extend reimbursement from the VCAP to siblings, custodial grandparents and custodial grandchildren for lost wages or support due to murder victim’s funeral. Parents and children of a murder victim can now get compensation for lost wages or support due to attendance at their loved one’s funeral. Unfortunately, the funeral of murder victims are often delayed in comparison to other deaths due to the criminal investigation involved, extending the time between the death and the burial for immediate family member and exceeding the leave policies of many work places.

Finally, this legislation will require law enforcement to make reasonable efforts to ensure the victim's next-of-kin has been notified of the death before publicly releasing the murder victim's identity, except when identifying the victim before then is necessary to the investigation of the crime or prosecution of the perpetrator. Medical personnel will be prohibited from releasing victim's identity within 24-hours from when the next-of-kin was notified of the death by either medical personnel or law enforcement.

The media attention around a murder creates a unique and undue burden for the victim’s family, particularly in this age of instantaneous news and the impact of social media. Often they have no idea their loved one’s name has been released to the media before they themselves learned of their loss or had the chance to notify close family and friends. We need to give families a minimal amount of time to learn the circumstances of the death, a small window to personally inform those closest to the victim, and the ability to gain a basic understanding of the status of the criminal investigation before the media and public scrutiny intrude upon their grief.

This was Senate Bill 1179 of last session and co-sponsors were Martin, Argall, Costa, Rafferty, Brewster, Reschenthaler, and Vulakovich.

Introduced as SB303