Jennifer Rashleigh-Houser, Victim Advocate and Witness Coordinator

Jennifer Rashleigh-Houser joined the Charlevoix County Prosecuting Attorney's Office in 2022 serving as victim advocate and witness coordinator.

Jennifer graduated from Grand Valley State University with a B.S. in psychology and theater.  She worked previously with the 86th District Court in Bellaire and with the Women's Resource Center of Northern Michigan where she served as a domestic violence/sexual abuse advocate and counselor.

In her spare time, Jennifer is the assistant director of the Boyne City High School drama program.

Unfortunately, almost all of us have either been a victim of a crime or know someone who has been a crime victim. Our victim advocate, working with our prosecutors, attempts to make what can otherwise be a very traumatic and unpleasant experience for victims a little bit easier to understand and get through.

Some of the services we provide include referrals for counseling and support groups, crime victim compensation information, victim impact forms, orientation to the courtroom setting and accompanying victims to court when requested to do so.

Article I, Section 24 of the Michigan Constitution and the Michigan Crime Victims’ Rights Act give crime victims the right to:

• be treated throughout the criminal justice process with fairness and respect for their dignity;
• timely disposition of the case following the arrest of the accused;
• receive an explanation of court procedures;
• reasonable protection from the accused throughout the criminal justice process, including having a waiting area separated from the defendant and the defendant's relatives and witnesses;
• receive an explanation of procedures to follow if threatened or intimidated by the defendant; and,
• consult with the Prosecuting Attorney to give input on the disposition of the case.

Crime victims also have the right to be notified of:

• Emergency and medical services from the investigating police agency;
• The name of the person in the Prosecutor's Office with information about their case;
• All scheduled court proceedings, including sentencing;
• The defendant's release on bond or escape from custody while awaiting trial;
• The address and telephone number of the probation department that is preparing the pre-sentence investigation report, if one is ordered by the judge;
• Victims compensation benefits and the address of the Crime Victim's Compensation Board, and an explanation of eligibility requirements for compensation funds; and,
• Trial and other court proceedings that the accused has a right to attend.

Crime victims also have the right to:

• Confer with the prosecution before trial and before the jury is selected;
• Make an oral statement to a pre-sentence investigator, or to have a written impact statement included in the pre-sentence report;
• Receive restitution;
• Receive information about the conviction, sentence, imprisonment, and release of the accused;
• Receive an explanation of the appeal process, to advise if the defendant has been released on an appeal bond;
• Be advised of the time and place of appellate court proceedings and to be advised of the result of an appeal; and,
• Finally, to have the right to the prompt return of your property taken during an investigation, except as otherwise provided by law.

FAQs for Crime Victims

I feel that a crime has been committed. How do I press charges? Can I report a crime directly to the Prosecuting Attorney's office?
Crimes are investigated by the police, not by the prosecuting attorney. Crimes should be reported to the police department or other law enforcement agency which has jurisdiction where the crime occurred. Once the initial investigation has been completed, the police department's report is filed with the Prosecuting Attorney. The prosecuting attorney or assistant prosecuting attorney reviewing the warrant request may send the case back to the police for further investigation. Ultimately, the reviewing prosecuting attorney or assistant prosecuting attorney decides what charge(s), if any, will be issued and when the charges(s) should be issued.

How do I press counter-charges against someone?
This request generally arises from assaults. Regardless of whether you have already been charged, if you believe that a crime has been committed against you, go to the appropriate police department to file a complaint and request an investigation. Your case will be reviewed on its own merits.

I am the victim and I want to drop the charge. Can I?
Many people incorrectly believe that a victim has the power to "press charges" against the wrongdoer, or to later "drop the charges". All crimes are offenses against the community, not just the individual victim. Criminal complaints are prosecuted on behalf of the State of Michigan, not the people who called the police or those who were personally harmed by the defendant's conduct. ONLY the Prosecuting Attorney can issue or dismiss charges. This is important because it takes the responsibility for prosecuting the wrongdoer off the victim's shoulders and puts it on the Prosecuting Attorney, where it legally belongs. It also means that the defendant cannot "pressure" the victim into dropping the charges.

Although the decision whether to prosecute or not prosecute is ultimately up to the Prosecuting Attorney, the victim's opinion is important and the Prosecuting Attorney will take those wishes into account when making his or her decisions regarding the case. A variety of factors are taken into account when deciding whether to honor a complainant's request not to proceed with a prosecution, including the nature and extent of the defendant's prior criminal history, the severity of the alleged crime, whether the defendant has other pending charges in the criminal justice system, and future danger the defendant poses to the community (including the current victim).

Why are some cases plea bargained?
There are not enough prosecutors, judges, courtrooms, or trial days on the calendar to put every criminal case issued in Michigan before a jury. For those defendants taken to trial, or for those who plead guilty before a trial, there are not enough jail cells in the state to hold them. These practical demands, plus the defendant's speedy trial rights, the seriousness of the cases, the strengths or weaknesses of cases, the victim's wishes, public safety, punishment, rehabilitation, and deterrence are all interests that are considered by the prosecuting attorney when deciding how to proceed. A plea agreement is always designed to balance these competing interests. Most cases are resolved in a relatively short time by the defendant's plea --- many times a plea to the charged offense.

I want a restraining order to keep someone away from me. Will the Prosecuting Attorney do this for me?
The Prosecuting Attorney may be able to request the judge to add a "no-contact" condition to the defendant's bond. You may also seek a Personal Protection Order.

What if someone threatens me?
Concerns about your well-being and safety after being victimized or witnessing a crime are normal. If you have any fears or receive any threats concerning your involvement in a case, you should immediately contact the law enforcement agency that investigated the case, or the Prosecuting Attorney's Office. In an emergency situation, call 911. Do so as soon as possible so that the threats can be documented and appropriate action taken. There are laws to protect you against people who attempt to bribe, intimidate, threaten, or harass you.

What if the defense attorney or a defense investigator contacts me?
In representing a client, a defense attorney may contact you and want to talk to you about the case. Keep in mind that you do not have to talk to anyone about the crime, including the defense attorney or their investigator prior to testifying in court. If you choose to do so, always request proper identification and an explanation of the purpose of the interview. If you have any concerns about talking with a defense attorney or their investigator, you are encouraged to contact the Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in charge of your case and to have him/her with you at the time of the interview.

Can you tell me what the defendant's sentence will be?
Sentencing in Michigan varies with the crime and can be the most confusing part of the criminal process. A few crimes have mandatory sentences, but most often the sentences are at the judge's discretion. Because of that, a prosecuting attorney cannot be certain of what the sentence might be.  The prosecutor and/or the victim advocate can explain the possible sentences to you on a case-by-case basis.

What is the difference between a felony and a misdemeanor?
Misdemeanors generally carry a maximum sentence of 90 days, 93 days or 1 year in the county jail, can result in probation for up to 2 years, counseling, community service and driver's license sanctions.  Felony offenses range from a minimum sentence of 366 days to a maximum of life in prison. Sometimes, the statutory maximum time for an individual crime is lengthened because the defendant is a repeat offender. In addition to incarceration in jail or prison, convicted felons may be sentenced to probation.

How do I get my property back?
If your property was stolen and recovered by the police, it can sometimes be returned to you before the case is done; in most cases, the prosecuting attorney needs to keep the property secured in police custody to ensure that it will be preserved and available if needed at trial. Ultimately, the decision whether evidence is released must be made by the Prosecuting Attorney's office. Contact our office to see when your property can be released.

The defendant is not paying court-ordered restitution. Who can help me?
Call the Court's probation department and ask for the probation officer who is assigned to the case. The probation officer can help you get your money if restitution was a condition of the defendant's probation and if the defendant is still on probation. Otherwise, see a private lawyer, because the restitution order is a court order that you can enforce like any civil judgment.

I was the victim of a violent crime. Can the Prosecuting Attorney's Office pay for my hospital bill and my lost wages or help me collect for pain and suffering, etc?
No. However, the Michigan Crime Victim' Compensation Fund may be able to help you with unreimbursed medical expenses and lost income. With regard to compensation for pain and suffering, you may need to contact a private attorney.

FAQs about Domestic Violence

What is Domestic Violence?
Domestic violence cases are very prevalent not only in Charlevoix County but in all counties across
the State of Michigan.  Domestic violence has been defined as "a learned pattern of physical, verbal, sexual and/or emotional behaviors in which one person in a relationship uses force and intimidation to dominate or control the other person."

Domestic violence can occur between people who are married, not married, together, separated or dating. It occurs between couples of all ages and different economic and social classes.

What if a victim doesn’t want the perpetrator to be prosecuted or wants the case dropped?
Charlevoix County aggressively pursues domestic violence cases with or without the cooperation of the victim. Domestic violence cases unlike any other type of criminal case often have reluctant victims. This is true for a variety of reasons.

Studies have consistently shown that by aggressively prosecuting perpetrators of domestic violence and not allowing victims to decide whether the case goes forward we send the message to the perpetrators (and the community) that their behavior is criminal.

It also makes it clear that it is the prosecutor who decides if the case goes to trial, not the victim.  Many domestic violence perpetrators attempt to extend their control over the victim into the court case, putting pressure on the victim to "drop" their case.

Where can someone who is in an abusive relationship get help?
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself and your children.  IF YOU ARE IN IMMEDIATE DANGER, CALL 9-1-1.

Call the Women's Resource Center crisis line at 800-275-1995 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 for assistance. Both are open 24 hours a day.

What else can someone in danger do?
1. Create a safety plan
    a) Work out signals with neighbors to call the police;
    b) Ask a friend or relative to stay with you if you believe you are in danger; and,
    c) Decide ahead of time where you can go and what to take with you if you must leave in a hurry such as money, important documents, a change of clothes and car keys.
2. Report assaults and/or stalking behavior to police; and,
3. Seek a Personal Protection Order (PPO).

What is a PPO?
A "PPO" is an abbreviation for Personal Protection Order. A PPO is a restraining order issued by the Circuit Court that protects victims of domestic violence or stalking. In certain situations you can get a PPO without giving notice to the person you want the order to restrain.

Who can obtain a PPO?
Anyone who has been physically, emotionally or sexually abused by a current or former spouse, a family member, a domestic partner, the other parent of your child, a current or former roommate, or a current or former person in a dating relationship. Also anyone who has been "stalked" as defined by statute. This would be anyone who has been repeatedly harassed to the point of being terrorized, intimidated or threatened.

These type of court orders are only available to victims of domestic violence and/or stalking.  They are not available to people involved in neighborhood disputes or other non- emergency type situations where two people are not getting along.

Where do I get a PPO?
A "do-it-yourself" PPO packet is available at the Charlevoix County Clerk's office in the Charlevoix County Building. This packet contains instructions and all the necessary forms you will need. The Circuit Court Judge will review your request and decide if a PPO is appropriate under the circumstances.

Tips for Witnesses

Tell the truth. This is the single most important advice any witness should remember.

Dress neatly. A neat appearance and proper dress in court give an important first, and lasting, impression.

Conduct yourself in a respectful manner. The trial of a criminal case is a serious matter.

Be prepared. You should know days or weeks ahead of time that you will be testifying in court. Think about the incident and what happened so that you can recall the details accurately when you are asked in court. If you need help remembering these details, write the facts down. If you have already written a statement; review it.

Think ahead of time about the answers you will give to the questions you expect will be asked.

Do not try to memorize what you will say in court. Jurors are hesitant to believe testimony that sounds "scripted". Also, the lawyers' questions may not coincide with your expected answers.

Stick to the facts. The judge or jury only wants to hear the facts as you know them to be, not what someone else told you.

Relax ... speak clearly. You have nothing to fear when giving truthful answers. When you are asked questions, give your answer as clearly as possible.

Expect to be questioned by more than one person. One of the basic rules in a criminal case is that both sides have a chance to question every witness. Questions asked by both sides or by the judge have the same goal --- to find out what is true.

Don’t argue with the lawyers or lose your temper. Be courteous. Don't let the lawyers upset you. It may seem at times that they are trying to pin you down, but they have the right to test how many of the facts you know and accurately remember.

Don't start to answer a question until the question is finished. If you haven't yet heard the entire question, you don't really know what you're being asked. Don't "jump the gun" by answering what you think the question will be (when it is finished). Talking over the lawyers can make a difficult for a transcript of the hearing to be prepared.

Think about your answer before you give it. Your every word counts. Be descriptive. Be accurate.  Vague or inconsistent responses give other people a chance to (mis)interpret what you meant your answer to be.

Answer all questions to the point. If the question calls for a short answer, give a short answer; if you need to explain, explain.

Answer only the question asked. Do not volunteer additional information or try to get across your "story" or "opinion."  If the issue is important to the case, the attorneys will ask you about it.

Don't exaggerate or guess. If you don't know the answer to a question, say so --- If you don't remember the information that you are asked about, say so.

Answer the questions verbally. Your testimony is being recorded. Don’t shake or nod your head, or say "uh-huh" instead of saying "yes" or “no.”

Look at the jurors and speak to them when testifying.  They are the people who you are giving information to.  The attorneys likely already know what your answer will be.  Jurors are ordinary people, like yourself. They consider attitude, facial expressions, eye contact and body language when evaluating testimony.

If you don't understand or didn't hear the question, ask that it be explained or repeated, whichever attorney is asking it.

If your answer was not correctly stated, correct it immediately.

Never attempt to talk to a juror about the case or any other matter while the case is being tried. This includes chance meetings during recesses, in hallways, at lunch, or any other place.

If either lawyer makes an objection, stop speaking at once. After the Judge has ruled, you will be instructed whether to continue.

If you are subpoenaed by the Prosecuting Attorney's Office, we will assist you with any questions you may have prior to your court appearance.