U. S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida Observes National Crime Victims’ Rights Week
Tampa, Fla. – United States Attorney Robert E. O’Neill, in recognition of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, April 22-28, 2012, announces restitution collection efforts on behalf of federal crime victims. For three decades, National Crime Victims’ Rights Week has promoted awareness of victims’ rights and services and honored crime victims and survivors. This year’s theme, Extending the Vision: Reaching Every Victim, expands the vision that inspired the crime victims’ rights movement and celebrates the progress that has been achieved. Special events throughout the country, and locally, marked this week’s focus on victims. On Monday, April 23, 2012, United States Attorney O’Neill participated in the Victim Assistance Information and Resource Fair sponsored by the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office Victim Assistance Program.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is deeply committed to assisting victims of federal crimes, ensuring that they are afforded their rights under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, protecting them from further harm, and helping them reshape their futures,” said U.S. Attorney O’Neill. “This includes aggressive, proactive collection efforts, both pre- and post-conviction, to maximize each victim’s financial recovery and to ensure fairness to all victims.”
The Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), enacted in 2004, grants victims in federal criminal proceedings certain enforceable rights, including the right to be reasonably heard at public court proceedings and to receive full and timely restitution, as provided by law. To address these needs, in January 2011, U.S. Attorney O’Neill created the Asset Recovery and Victims’ Rights Division (ARVRD), which combined the district’s Asset Forfeiture Section, Financial Litigation Unit, and Victim Witness Unit.
Victims are notified of significant case events through the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Victim Notification System (VNS). Such notice enables victims to participate in court proceedings and make their voices heard. According to Department of Justice statistics, in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, the United States Attorneys’ offices provided notice of over 10.4 million case events, including criminal charges filed, plea hearings, bond hearings and sentencing hearings. Notification of significant case events leads to increased victim participation in court proceedings. In FY 2011, Victim Witness personnel in the United States Attorney’s offices accompanied over 28,000 victims to court hearings and trials. Court accompaniment helps ensure that victim participation in court proceedings is meaningful as Division personnel can answer questions and explain the federal judicial process. In addition to notification and court accompaniment, the Division provides essential services to victims, including counseling referrals, temporary housing, and assisting with access to victim compensation funds. These services provide tools victims need to reshape their futures.
The law requires that defendants pay restitution to those victims of federal crimes who have suffered a physical injury or financial loss. Restitution is mandatory for most federal crimes and is not dependent on a defendant’s ability to pay. The United States Attorneys’ Offices are responsible for enforcing and collecting civil and criminal debts, which include restitution, criminal fines, and felony assessments owed to the United States and federal crime victims. While restitution is paid directly to the victim, criminal fines and felony assessments are paid to the Department’s Crime Victims’ Fund, which then distributes the funds to state victim compensation and victim assistance programs. Asset forfeiture is also used as a tool to divest defendants of their criminal proceeds and return them to victims, where appropriate.
The ARVRD, which is charged with collecting criminal restitution and fines from defendants, collected more than $11 million in criminal debts in FY 2011, which were either disbursed to non-federal victims of crime, federal agencies, or deposited into the Crime Victims’ Fund. In addition, approximately $24 million in forfeited funds were used to compensate victims in FY 2011. Between 2007 and 2011, the Middle District of Florida used more than $54 million in forfeited funds to compensate crime victims.
It is difficult to recover restitution for victims because criminals squander their criminal proceeds and often have no assets by the time of arrest. Despite these challenges, the United States Attorney’s Office is committed to collecting restitution whenever possible, using all available legal tools. As one 25-year old victim who received full restitution totaling $409,662 stated, "I don't think I can put into words what it truly means to me." The young victim noted that the restitution will allow him to have a fresh start.
Further information about National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is available at http://ovc.ncjrs.gov/ncvrw/.