Thursday, March 11, 2010

Victims of Crime

There has been an awfully lot of violence in Saipan lately.

Reported incidents include
(1) the violence purportedly at the hands of Shane Hocog that resulted in the death of Larry Gonzales;

(2) the temporary absence of a 5 year old girl, allegedly kidnapped and choked by Steven Hocog;

(3) the
nighttime incident against 2 young girls
, allegedly involving sexual contact by Juan C.Taitano;

(4) the internet cafe incident against 3 boys, ages 11 and 12, allegedly involving sexual contact by Marc Thomas Doyle;

(5) the incident allegedly involving MMA fighter Kelvin Fitial, and reported as his reaching through a car window to punch the face of a man who was already in his seat belt;

(6) the incident allegedly involving MMA fighter Maitai Charley, and reported as his assault on people in a car at Winchell’s and on a man who came to the rescue; the rescuer was the father of a 10 year old boy by-stander, who now suffers nightmares, loss of bowel movement, and other emotional trauma;

(7) the domestic violence incident allegedly involving a police officer, Kelani Vincent Pangelinan, shooting his gun inside the house, choking his live-in partner, twisting her arm, and refusing to let her leave until she had sex with him;

(8) the incident of purported sexual assault of a 13 year old girl by Steven R. Aguon at her home on February 20, 2010;

(9) the incident of purported sexual assault of a 6th grade girl near CK cemetery—LAST YEAR, by Steven R. Aguon;

(10) The alleged molestation of two minor girls in a barracks in Tanapag by Steven R. Aguon about March 6, 2010.

This level of violence is unprecedented in Saipan in the 25 years I’ve been here. Any of these incidents could have happened at an earlier time; but for all (but one) of them to have happened in Saipan during the past few weeks is staggering.

This post is to provide some information about victims’ rights and possible remedies. My research has been very frustrating and there is little at present in the CNMI to help.

Helping victims of crime is a national priority.

The highest priority seems to be strengthening law enforcement to arrest, prosecute and punish criminals and to keep them from becoming repeat offenders. For example, in an interview on March 6. 2010, President Obama discussed the problems with John Walsh on AMERICA’S MOST WANTED of sex offenders repeating their crimes and how to stop that—to fund the national sex offender registry, to get DNA automatically upon arrest of any suspect, to have interstate cooperation.

President Obama also said:
If you think 30 years ago, when these terrible crimes happened, the victims were just left to deal with this on their own. We’ve seen a cultural change which I think is enormously positive. People realize we’ve got to rally around victims, make sure they’ve got the support they need, the medical care they need, the counseling that they need. But most importantly that we recognize what’s happened to them, that we insist on justice.

“That’s what people need more than anything., so they can stop feeling like victims and feel like they’ve got some power.”

To that end, the U.S. Department of Justice has an Office for Victims of Crime (OVC).

The federal government, through the OVC, funds state initiatives in two key areas:
1) victim compensation and
2) victim assistance

The federal government addresses the needs of victims of crime by funding state and territorial government programs in both of these key areas, but it is the state and territorial governments that operate the programs that deal directly with victims.


Direct Victim Compensation: Every state and almost every territory (including District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, and Guam) offer a direct victim compensation program, according to the OVC.

This type of program offers reimbursement to victims of crime for medical costs, mental health counseling, funeral and burial costs, and lost wages or lost support. Some state programs provide more, including crime scene clean-up, transportation and other expenses. Most programs, however, only pay out for violent crimes and not for property crimes. Some also weigh the culpability of the victim in causing or participating in the criminal activity.

According to the OVC, our state agency tasked with helping victims of crime is the Criminal Justice Planning Agency (CJPA). Unfortunately, the CNMI is not on the list of states and territories with direct victim compensation programs, according to John Cruz of CJPA. We have no CNMI statute establishing such a program; and therefore, we have no program and no funds for direct victim compensation.

The CNMI might be eligible to apply for this help, if the CNMI Legislature passed the appropriate laws and contributed some funding. It appears that the US OVC will pay 60% of expenditures for victim compensation, but apparently the local government must pay the other 40%; US OVC payments to the state or territory government are based on expenditures in the previous year.

Until the CNMI legislates for direct victim compensation and provides some funds for it, there will be no access to additional funds from the US Department of Justice / OVC.

Assistance for Victims: The CNMI’s CJPA distributes federal funds through grants to agencies providing assistance to victims in the CNMI. According to John Cruz, three agencies or entities in the CNMI are offering services to victims of crime.

1. Karidat, which operates 3 programs: Victims Advocacy, Victims Hotline, and Guma Esperanza. According to Lauri Ogumoro at Guma Esperanza, Victims Advocacy provides help to victims of domestic violence, helping them prepare and file for temporary restraining orders under the Family Protection Act. They offer referral services for counseling, as well. Karidat also operates a Victim Hotline, where callers receive both immediate consultation and referrals for follow up help. Guma Esperanza provides shelter for victims of both domestic violence and human trafficking. They help identify possible immigration relief for HT victims and refer victims for legal assistance, after developing the factual record.

2. Tinian Health Center operates a “Family Protection Program,” according to CJPA. I have no details on what services this program provides. We called the THC for information, but we were told that the woman who knows about this was “off” and so we got no information.

3. CHC operates a “Victim’s Help” program, according to CJPA. Victims will find no help, though, because a call to CHC will only yield a circuit of referrals. When we called for information, the switchboard transferred us to Public Health, who transferred us to the Secretary’s secretary, who wanted to transfer us back to Public Health.

CNMI law:
The CNMI Constitution, Article I, section 11, provides:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, and belongings against crime shall be recognized at sentencing. Restitution to the crime victim shall be a condition of probation and parole, except upon a showing of compelling interest.”

6 CMC § 4109 provides:
If a defendant is convicted of any offense defined in this title, the court may, in lieu of or in addition to other lawful punishment or as a condition of probation or suspension of a sentence, order restitution or compensation to the owner or person damaged or the forfeiture of wrongfully obtained property to the Commonwealth.”

The CNMI Superior Court has analyzed the interplay between the Constitution’s mandatory language and the statute’s permissive language in the case CNMI v. Jung Yeong Min, Traffic #90-3247 (7/31/1990). The Court held that the original constitutional provision was designed to establish and provide funding for a victim-of-crime assistance program for victims of violent crime, but the substituted amendment, which was adopted, intended to place the burden of restitution only on the perpetrator, to cover all crimes, and be limited to restitution for losses “proximately caused” by the crime. But the proximate cause issue did not provide standing to the victim—the victim was not permitted to contest the sentence. The court held that the defendant, convicted of DUI on breathalyzer evidence, was not subject to restitution for the damage to the automobile he wrapped around a telephone pole, as the damage was not “proximately caused” by the crime. The only remedy for the victim/owner of the car was to sue for civil damages.

6 CMC §§ 9101 et seq. sets forth provisions creating an Office of Victims’ Rights within the Criminal Justice Planning Agency. It sets forth duties and responsibilities of the office. Some of those duties include providing information to victims about the perpetrator, the court proceedings, emergency medical and social services, restitution relief; other duties include arranging for reasonable protection from the offender, providing transportation to ensure a victim’s access to all court appearances and assistance programs; and acting as an advocate for victims of crime to obtain aid and services from public and private agencies. None of these responsibilities can be enforced, though, because the law gives no means to do so. NO CAUSE OF ACTION OR DEFENSE is given to victims for failure of the agency to live up to its responsibilities.

The law also lists a Victims Bill of Rights.

Those rights include 1) the right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy; 2) the right to be reasonably protected from the accused offender; 3) the right to be notified of court proceedings; 4) the right to be present at all public court proceedings related to the offense; 5) the right to confer with the attorney for the government in the case; 6) the right to restitution; 7 the right to information about the conviction, sentencing, imprisonment, and release of the offender. The statutes also provide that these rights are not enforceable! NO CAUSE OF ACTION OR DEFENSE is provided to the victims for violation of their rights under this law.

All in all, the CNMI has a Constitutional provision that has little meaning; the laws pay lip service to victims’ rights but provide no real protection.

The only agency in the CNMI doing anything of real help designed especially for victims is Karidat. (CHC and Public Health may provide medical care and counseling services, but victims get no more help than anyone else; there is no indication of any special services for victims.)


Victim’s Rights—Federal Immigration Law
For victims who are aliens (not U.S. citizens), there may be immigration relief available. If you are a victim of rape, torture, human trafficking, incest, domestic violence, sexual assault, abusive sexual contact, prostitution, sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, being held hostage, peonage, involuntary servitude, slave trade, kidnapping, abduction, unlawful criminal restraint, false imprisonment, blackmail, extortion, manslaughter, murder, felonious assault, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, perjury, or attempt, conspiracy or solicitation to commit any of these crimes, you may be eligible for a U Visa. A U Visa allows an alien to live and work lawfully in the U.S. for three years, with the possibility of adjusting status to lawful permanent resident (green card).

Victims may include survivors of homicide as well.

The key provision, however, is that the victim must cooperate with law enforcement officials and have information that is helpful in prosecuting the crime.

The victims must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse. The cause of the suffering must be a crime that violates the laws of the United States or any state or territory, or the harm must have occurred within the United States.

If you want more information about the possibility of seeking a U Visa, or about any of your rights as a victim, you should see an attorney.


As President Obama said, thirty years ago, victims throughout the U.S. had no greater rights than we are seeing here in the CNMI. What brought about change in the US was a strong movement of victims and advocates seeking change. Now, there is a large federal fund that is distributed to all 50 states and the participating territories with victim compensation programs, so that victims get financial aid to pay for their medical bills, to pay for funeral costs, to cover lost time at work, to pay for counseling, to provide child and spousal support that has been interrupted by crime, and for other needs arising from victimization. We haven’t seen any of that benefit here, but we have a growing number of victims.

There is a National Crime Victims Rights Week, set for April 18-24, 2010.

I have not heard of any activities scheduled in the CNMI, but this would be an opportunity for those interested to do something.

Other organizations where you might find help include:

National Center for Victims of Crime (1-800-394-2255)
National Organization for Victim Assistance (1-800-879-6682)
OVC Resource Center (1-800-851-3420)

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