The Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982 (VWPA) was enacted "to enhance and protect the necessary role of crime victims and witnesses in the criminal justice process; to ensure that the Federal government does all that is possible within limits of available resources to assist victims and witnesses of crime without infringing on the constitutional rights of defendants; and to provide a model for legislation for state and local governments."
If you are a victim or a witness to a crime, the Victim - Witness Assistance Program is designed to provide you with services while you are involved with the criminal justice system.
As a victim of crime, you may be experiencing feelings of confusion, frustration, fear, and anger. Our staff can help you deal with these feelings. We also will explain your rights as a victim or witness, and help you better understand how the criminal justice system works.
One of the responsibilities of citizenship for those who have knowledge about the commission of a crime is to serve as witnesses at the criminal trial or one of the other hearings held in connection with the criminal prosecution. The federal criminal justice system cannot function without the participation of witnesses. The complete cooperation and truthful testimony of all witnesses are essential to the proper determination of guilt or innocence in a criminal case.
Our office is concerned that victims and witnesses of crime are treated fairly throughout their contact with the criminal justice system.
The United States Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's Office have taken several steps to make the participation by victims of crime and witnesses more effective and meaningful. One of these steps is the preparation of this web section, which contains information related to Victim Witness. We hope that it will provide you the answers to many of your questions and will give you sufficient general information to understand your rights and responsibilities.
Federal crime victims have the following rights under the Justice for All Act (18 U.S.C. § 3771):
- The right to be reasonably protected from the accused;
- The right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any public court proceeding, or any parole proceeding, involving the crime or of any release or escape of the accused;
- The right not to be excluded from any such public court proceeding, unless the court, after receiving clear and convincing evidence, determines that testimony by the victim would be materially altered if the victim heard other testimony at that proceeding;
- The right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving the release, plea, sentencing, or any parole proceeding;
- The reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case;
- The right to full and timely restitution as provided in law;
- The right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay; and
- The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim's dignity and privacy.
We will make our best efforts to ensure victims are accorded the rights described. Victims may seek the advice of an attorney with respect to these rights.
CRIME VICTIMS’ RIGHTS ACT COMPLAINT FORM:
If you have been identified as a crime victim (defined as “a person directly or proximately harmed as a result of the commission of a federal offense”) under 18 U.S.C. 3771(e) and believe that you were denied one or more of your rights afforded by the Crime Victims’ Rights Act of 2004, you may complete the Complaint Form. This form cannot be completed online. The form must be printed and completed, then mailed or faxed to the designated contact on the form.
(a) Non-Capital Cases. - Notwithstanding any statute, rule, or other provision of law, a United States District Court shall not order any victim of an offense excluded from the trial of a defendant accused of that offense because such victim may, during the sentencing hearing, make a statement or present any information in relation to the sentence.
(b) Capital Cases. - Notwithstanding any statute, rule, or other provision of law, a United States District Court shall not order any victim of an offense excluded from the trial of a defendant accused of that offense because such victim may, during the sentencing hearing, testify as to the effect of the offense on the victim and the victim's family or as to any other factor for which notice is required under 18 U.S.C. § section 3593(a).
When Will I Get My Money?
There are sometimes hundreds of victims in fraud cases and payments have to be disbursed to all the victims at the same time. Restitution payments also are dependent on financial resources the defendant has at the time of sentencing and whether the defendant has any children or family who are dependent on him/her for income. If the defendant is in prison, the defendant will most likely not be able make any payments or make only small payments (this is because prisoners that are in prison's work program are paid very little, as low as 11 cents per hour). For example, if the defendant makes a $25 payment, that payment then has to be spread among numerous victims, thus each victim may only get $1 payment towards restitution. Therefore, you may not receive any restitution or only partial restitution paid out over a very long time period.
What Happened to All the Money the Defendant Took from Me?
While the U.S. Attorney's Office attempts to seize any assets the defendant has, usually the defendant has spent all the victim's money to support himself on things like rent, food, car leases, etc. Generally, the defendant does not have bank accounts with the victim's money in it.
How Is Restitution Collected and Dispersed?
The U.S. Clerk of Court receives payments from the defendant and then will forward payments to the victims. However, as noted above, these payments can often be quite small. The Clerk does not issue checks for small amounts because this is not economically feasible. Therefore, the Clerk will wait until there is a more substantial amount to disburse to the victims (ex: a check for $10 vs a check for only $2). The Clerk will NOT send a letter notifying you a payment is coming - you will just recieve a check in the mail.
How Long Will the Defendant Have to Make Payments?
Restitution judgements are in effect and enforced for 20 years. Thus, the defendant has 20 years to make all the restitution. The U.S. Attorney's Financial Litigation Unit is responsible for enforcing restitution payments. Even though a defendant may not have assets at the time he/she is sentenced and serves any term of imprisonment, he/she may have an ability to make restitution after release. Therefore, it is important that you keep the U.S. Attorney's Office informed of any address changes.
What Should I Do to Make Sure I Receive Restitution?
Contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office, 300 Fannin St., Suite 3201, Shreveport, LA 71101, Attn: Victim Witness Coordinator.
What if I Don't Want to Be Bothered?
You should provide a written notification to the United States Attorney's Office and request that your portion be assigned to the Crime Victim Fund.
What if I Am the Power of Attorney or Legal Guardian for the Victim and Am Receiving the Restitution Notice?
You should provide written notification to the United States Attorney's Office regarding your desire for restitution. Make sure you indicate the victim’s name on the form and your relationship to the victim (ex: power of attorney, son, etc). Please be aware that restitution can be made to the victim’s estate if the victim is deceased.
What if I Receive a Restitution Payment and Then Don't Get Another One?
As stated above, restitution payments tend to be quite small and it takes some time for there to be enough to send to the victims. Thus, you could receive a payment and not receive another one for another couple of months. The defendant may have lost his/her job and can’t make payments temporarily or the defendant may have just stopped making payments which is a violation of the terms of probation or supervised release (these reasons apply to defendants who are on probation or have been released from prison). However, if you have been receiving payments on a consistent regular basis and then suddenly are not receiving them, you should contact the U.S. Probation Office to determine the reason.
Who Should I Contact if I Have Any Questions?
The U.S. Attorney’s Victim Witness Coordinator
The U.S. Probation Office, Shreveport, LA
After the defendant is charged with a federal crime, victims are entitled to be notified of public court proceedings. In most instances victims will receive an initial letter from the U.S. Attorney's Office and subsequent letters as case events warrant. Occasionally, in cases involving large numbers of victims, alternative notification procedures may be used.
In addition to receiving notifications from the U.S. Attorney's Office, victims may:
- Call the Victim Notification System (VNS) Center at 1-866-365-4968 for recorded information about the status of a case. Victims will need the Victim Identification Number (VIN) and Personal Identification Number (PIN) provided to them in our initial notification letter.
- Visit VNS's website to check the status of a case, using the VIN and PIN provided to them in our initial notification letter.
- Access the U.S. District Court's website at any federal court in Louisiana or through a PACER account. To set up an account call 1-800-676-6856 or register at http://pacer.psc.uscourts.gov. There is no charge to establish an account or view lists of documents. Documents themselves cost $.08 a page, but users who accumulate less than $10 a year in fees are not charged.
- Contact the Victim-Witness Coordinator or the Assistant U.S. Attorney assigned to the case.
- If a defendant is incarcerated in the federal Bureau of Prisons, further information may be obtained directly from the BOP website. Once on the BOP website, click the "Inmate Locator" button, then search the database by the defendant's name.
NOTE: In cases involving large numbers of victims, alternative methods of notification may be used.
Victim Notification System (VNS)
VNS, a cooperative effort between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, provides federal crime victims with an opportunity to access case information during the investigation, prosecution and incarceration phases.
If you are a federal crime victim, you will receive a Victim Identification Number (VIN) and Personal Identification Number (PIN).
The VNS Call Center:You may call 1-866-DOJ-4YOU (1-866-365-4968) for current information. You will be required to enter your VIN and your PIN. By following the prompts, VNS will provide custody information and notice of upcoming court events.
(Eastern Time) Monday - Friday 6:00 a.m. - 3:00 a.m.
Saturday 6:00 a.m. - 12:00 a.m.
Sunday 8:00 a.m. - 12:00 a.m.
1-866-DOJ-4YOU - (1-866-365-4968)
VNS Internet Access:
You may access information about the case via the Internet at https://www.notify.usdoj.gov/.
You will be required to enter your VIN and your PIN. The website, in some instances, may provide additional information that is not available through the Call Center.
If a defendant pleads guilty or is convicted, victims have the opportunity to submit a Victim Impact Statement, in which they may explain the physical, emotional, and financial effects of the crime. Victim Impact Statements are submitted to the Court and may be used to help the Court decide what sentence the defendant should receive and whether restitution should be ordered.
Federal Rule 32 Victim Impact Statement
provides that before imposing sentence in a crime of violence or sexual abuse, the court must "address the victim personally if the victim is present at the sentencing hearing and determine if the victim wishes to make a statement or present any information in relation to the sentence".
defines "victim" as "any individual against whom an offense has been committed for which a sentence is to be imposed." provides that right to speak at sentencing may be exercised by the victim or (A) by parent or legal guardian if victim is under 18 or is incompetent; or (B) by one or more family members or relatives designated by the court if the victim is deceased or incapacitated.
32(a)(1)(A) or (a)(1)(B):
defines "crime of violence or sexual abuse" to be one that "involved the use or attempted or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or a [sexual abuse] crime."
It is a federal offense to threaten, intimidate, or harass a victim or witness in a criminal proceeding. If victims or witnesses are threatened or feel harassed because of their involvement in a case, they should notify the investigating agency. In an emergency, call 911.
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After charges are filed in a federal criminal case, Victim-Witness Coordinators provide certain services to victims and witnesses. They:
- Provide notification to victims about public court proceedings such as indictments, arraignments, trial dates, continuances, plea agreements, trial outcomes and sentencing;
- Provide information to victims about the Victim Notification System (VNS) Call Center and Website;
- Provide information about victims' rights under federal law;
- Refer victims to the Victims Compensation Program;
- Provide information about federal court procedures and the criminal justice process;
- Notify subpoenaed witnesses of changes in court dates or times;
- Make travel and lodging arrangements for court appearances by non-local witnesses;
- Arrange for direct government payment of certain witness transportation and lodging expenses;
- Process vouchers for witness court attendance fees and reimbursement of allowable expenses.
f a victim suffered financial loss as a result of the crime, the Court may order the defendant to repay them as part of the sentence. While there is no guarantee that payment will be made, it is important that victims keep detailed records of all crime-related losses and expenses.
If victims are awarded restitution and have questions about payments, they may contact the U.S. Attorney's Office Financial Litigation Unit or the U.S. District Court's Financial Administrator.
For additional information on restitution and agency assistance, please refer to the information directory.
National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH)
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)
National Center for Victims of Crime
National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA)
Louisiana Crime Victims Reparations Program
Louisiana Crime Victim Assistance
Federal Trade Commission - Identity Theft
THE VICTIM WITNESS PROGRAM
The Department of Justice Victim Witness program was established as a result of the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982, the Victims of Crime Act of 1984, the Violent Crime Control Act of 1994, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, and the Victim Rights Clarification Act of 1997. These acts guaranteed federal victims and witnesses certain rights and imposed significant duties and responsibilities on the United States Attorney's Office.
The Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982 contains several provisions to aid victims and witnesses of federal crimes. The Act is applicable to all victims and witnesses of serious crime, those involving personal violence, attempted or threatened personal violence or significant property loss. The three basic provisions of the Act are Notification, Consultation and Referral services for victims and witnesses of serious crime.
The United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of Louisiana encompasses 42 parishes. The main office is located in Shreveport at 300 Fannin Street. A manned office is located in Lafayette at 800 Lafayette Street. The Victim-Witness Staff is made up of one full-time Victim Witness Coordinator in Shreveport.
The Victim-Witness Staff is available to provide supportive services to innocent victims and witnesses of a crime. Victims of crime often experience physical, emotional and financial trauma as a result of their victimization. As a victim, you have certain rights and the Victim-Witness Staff is here to help you understand these rights and ensure that you are accorded those rights and services.
Definition of Victim. Any innocent victim who suffers direct or threatened physical, emotional or financial harm as the result of the commission of a crime. The term "victim" also includes the spouse, legal guardian, parent, child, sibling, or another family member for any victim who is under 18 years of age, incompetent, incapacitated or deceased. Institutional entities are also considered victims. Any person who is culpable for the crime being investigated is not considered a victim.
Definition of Witness. A witness is someone who has information or evidence concerning a crime, and provides information regarding this knowledge to a law enforcement agency. Where the witness is a minor, the term includes an appropriate family member. The term "witness" does not include defense witnesses or those individuals involved in the crime as a perpetrator or accomplice.
- Victims have the right to be reasonably protected from the accused;
- Victims have the right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any public court proceeding, or any parole proceeding, involving the crime or of any release or escape of the accused;
- Victims have the right not to be excluded from any such public court proceeding, unless the court, after receiving clear and convincing evidence, determines that testimony by the victim would be materially altered if the victim heard other testimony at that proceeding;
- Victims have the right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving the release, plea, sentencing, or any parole proceeding;
- Victims have the reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case;
- Victims have the right to full and timely restitution as provided in law;
- Victims have the right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay; and
- Victims have the right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim's dignity and privacy.
Notification. The Victim-Witness Staff provides notification to victims and witnesses regarding case status and court proceedings. Victims and witnesses who wish to receive notification letters should complete a Notification and Consultation Form.
Consultation. Victims are allowed to provide input at various stages of a case, including the dismissal of charges, release of accused pending trial, plea agreement terms, victim views on sentencing, and restitution. The Victim-Witness Staff is available to ensure that your views are expressed to the Assistant United States Attorney assigned to the case.
Court Assistance. The Victim-Witness Staff is available to accompany you to any court proceeding. The Staff will also provide assistance with:
The Criminal Justice Process. The judicial system can be very confusing to those who are experiencing this for the first time. The staff is here to help explain each step of the process and to notify you of all court dates, times and locations and confirm if your presence is needed. The staff will explain what you can expect when you are in court.
Transportation to Court Proceedings. If you are an out of town witness, transportation and lodging (if necessary) will be provided for you.
Referral Services. In cases where victims require medical or counseling referrals, the Victim-Witness Staff will provide victims with a list of applicable services located in the victim's area. The staff can also assist you in numerous ways regarding your particular problem. Sources for assistance can include counseling, shelters, housing and many emergency referrals.
Written Victim Impact Statements. This is a victim's written or verbal statement which is submitted to the Judge to review before sentencing the defendant. It personalizes to the Judge the emotional, physical, and financial impact you and others have suffered as a direct result of the crime. The Victim-Witness Staff or the U.S. Probation Office in Shreveport or Lafayette will provide you with a Victim Impact Statement Form to complete prior to sentencing. Since some victims are uncomfortable with completing a formal statement for review, the Judge will also consider a personal letter.
Verbal Victim Impact Statement. All Victims of Crime have the right to be reasonably heard at sentencing. Should you wish to do so, the Victim-Witness Staff will explain the process to you.
Protection for Victims and Witnesses. The Victim-Witness Staff has certain resources available to assist victims and witnesses who feel threatened or who have received threats.
Victim Privacy. The United States Attorney's Office takes every precaution to ensure victim's and witness's privacy is maintained.
Separate Waiting Area. Witnesses waiting to testify wait in an area separate and away from the defendant. The Victim-Witness Staff is available to ensure witness's comfort while waiting to testify.
Safekeeping and Prompt Return of Property. Every effort is made to return personal property to victims as soon as the circumstances of the case permit.
Notification to Employers or Creditors. Where a victim or witness requests it, the Victim-Witness Staff can write a letter to the victim or witness's employer attesting to the fact that the victim or witness was required to be in court. If a victim is experiencing trouble in making payments to creditors because of the crime, the Staff can write a letter to the victim's creditor explaining the circumstances in which the victim finds him or herself.
Forensic Examination for Sexual Assault Victims. The Violence Against Women Act allows victims of sex offenses to request that the United States Attorney's Office pay for 2 (an initial test and a six month follow-up test) anonymous and confidential tests for HIV and Sexual Transmitted Diseases (STD) and 2 related counseling sessions. In addition, the victim can seek a federal court order compelling a defendant to undergo HIV and STD testing. Victims should contact the Victim-Witness Staff for assistance.
Office Hours: Monday - Friday 8:30am to 5:00pm. For assistance after hours or on weekends please call 1-800-729-7270 (Shreveport) or 1-800-676-6992 (Lafayette).
The United States Attorney's Office for the Western District of Louisiana is dedicated to ensuring that victim and witnesses are treated fairly throughout their contact with the criminal justice system. The Victim-Witness Staff is available to assist victims and witnesses to ensure their comfort and safety.