Jon Wilson works as an independent liaison with victims’ families in certain state and federal capital cases, in order to try to identify and meet any needs surviving family members may have that are not being — or cannot be — met through the prosecuting attorney’s or U.S. Attorney’s office. Sadly, it can happen that victims’ survivors feel marginalized and shut out of the very judicial process that is supposed to help them feel justice is being done, and in such cases, victim outreach/liaison practitioners can sometimes be of help. The last thing a prosecution or defense team wants is to inadvertently re-victimize a family that has already known the deepest agonies a human being can know, but sometimes the workings of the system allow that to happen. This is part of why courts appoint or approve an independent victim liaison who is able to connect directly with the defense team in the case.
Some victims/survivors can feel shut out of the very judicial process that is supposed to help them.
This aspect of victim liaison work grew out of the needs of victims and survivors for answers to questions about their cases. Our adversarial system of justice, as elegant as it is, has been found to occasionally fail the needs of victims and survivors. Prosecutors, committed to seeing justice done on behalf of the victims themselves, have sometimes lost track of — or lost touch with — the personal needs of surviving family members. Defense attorneys have sometimes, in their zeal to protect the Constitutional rights of the accused, caused harms to victims and survivors. The system prevents little enough information flow from the prosecution team to families, and none at all from the defense team. The result has been that, while justice has remained blind, she has also become inadvertently cruel, wounding survivors in unexpected ways.
Independent victim liaison practitioners contact victims’ survivors to see if they can be of any help at all in finding answers to questions, or to passing on information that the prosecution is unable to access or provide, themselves. What is unusual about this process is that they often work with defense attorneys in capital cases – including death penalty cases — which are so terribly complex and intricate. These are the kinds of cases that can become so obviously and legitimately emotional and seemingly interminable. Sometimes, there are innumerable questions to be answered, and other times, there are none. Sometimes, answers are easily found, and other times, they cannot be found. The job of the victim liaison is simply to try as hard as s/he can. When victims’ survivors are allowed to be heard, their sense of justice is more complete. That is one of the primary objectives of victim liaison work.