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Victim/Witness Assistance

The United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of West Virginia is committed to providing support and information to victims and witnesses involved in various stages of civil and criminal litigation. A primary goal is to ensure that victims of crime are treated fairly, with dignity and respect for their privacy.

The office staff works together to make sure that victims are informed of the status of cases and to help them find services to assist in recovering from the effects of being victimized.

Victim/Witness Coordinator
Tracy Dorsey-Chapman
U.S. Attorney’s Office
300 Virginia Street, East
Suite 4000
Charleston, WV 25301
Main: (304) 345-2200
Fax: (304) 347-5104

Victim Resources
Information for Victims and Witnesses
Victim Impact Statements
Victims' Rights
The Criminal Justice Process
Restitution & Compensation
The Emotional Impact of Crime
If You Are Threatened or Harassed
Other Assistance & Services
Limited Confidentiality Statement
Tips for Testifying

INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS & WITNESSES

The following information has been prepared to help answer questions that may arise. We have included information which will give you an understanding of how the Federal criminal justice system works.

The role of the United States Attorney's Office is to prosecute cases fairly and justly. Our actions on your behalf do not constitute an attorney-client relationship and we cannot give you legal advice. The interests of the United States may occasionally diverge from your interests as a victim.

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VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENTS

Victims of federal crime have the right to be reasonably heard at any public proceedings. For more information about exercising your right to be heard, click here. Victims also have a right to submit a written victim impact statement. To understand the importance of the victim impact statement, click here. Your Victim Impact Statement should be mailed to the US Attorney's Office as soon as possible and prior to sentencing.

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VICTIMS' RIGHTS

18 U.S.C. § 3771. Crime victims' rights

(a) RIGHTS OF CRIME VICTIMS.--A crime victim has the following rights:

(1) The right to be reasonably protected from the accused.

(2) 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.

(3) 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.

(4) The right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving release, plea, sentencing, or any parole proceeding.

(5) The reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case.

(6) The right to full and timely restitution as provided in law.

(7) The right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay.

(8) The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim's dignity and privacy.

(b) RIGHTS AFFORDED.--In any court proceeding involving an offense against a crime victim, the court shall ensure that the crime victim is afforded the rights described in subsection (a). Before making a determination described in subsection (a)(3), the court shall make every effort to permit the fullest attendance possible by the victim and shall consider reasonable alternatives to the exclusion of the victim from the criminal proceeding. The reasons for any decision denying relief under this chapter shall be clearly stated on the record.

(c) BEST EFFORTS TO ACCORD RIGHTS.--

(1) GOVERNMENT.--Officers and employees of the Department of Justice and other departments and agencies of the United States engaged in the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime shall make their best efforts to see that crime victims are notified of, and accorded, the rights described in subsection (a).

(2) ADVICE OF ATTORNEY.--The prosecutor shall advise the crime victim that the crime victim can seek the advice of an attorney with respect to the rights described in subsection (a).

(3) NOTICE.--Notice of release otherwise required pursuant to this chapter shall not be given if such notice may endanger the safety of any person.

(d) ENFORCEMENT AND LIMITATIONS.--

(1) RIGHTS.--The crime victim or the crime victim's lawful representative, and the attorney for the Government may assert the rights described in subsection (a). A person accused of the crime may not obtain any form of relief under this chapter.

(2) MULTIPLE CRIME VICTIMS.--In a case where the court finds that the number of crime victims makes it impracticable to accord all of the crime victims the rights described in subsection (a), the court shall fashion a reasonable procedure to give effect to this chapter that does not unduly complicate or prolong the proceedings.

(3) MOTION FOR RELIEF AND WRIT OF MANDAMUS.--The rights described in subsection (a) shall be asserted in the district court in which a defendant is being prosecuted for the crime or, if no prosecution is underway, in the district court in the district in which the crime occurred. The district court shall take up and decide any motion asserting a victim's right forthwith. If the district court denies the relief sought, the movant may petition the court of appeals for a writ of mandamus. The court of appeals may issue the writ on the order of a single judge pursuant to circuit rule or the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. The court of appeals shall take up and decide such application forthwith within 72 hours after the petition has been filed. In no event shall proceedings be stayed or subject to a continuance of more than five days for purposes of enforcing this chapter. If the court of appeals denies the relief sought, the reasons for the denial shall be clearly stated on the record in a written opinion.

(4) ERROR.--In any appeal in a criminal case, the Government may assert as error the district court's denial of any crime victim's right in the proceeding to which the appeal relates.

(5) LIMITATION ON RELIEF.--In no case shall a failure to afford a right under this chapter provide grounds for a 2263 new trial. A victim may make a motion to re-open a plea or sentence only if--

(A) the victim has asserted the right to be heard before or during the proceeding at issue and such right was denied;

(B) the victim petitions the court of appeals for a writ of mandamus within 10 days; and

(C) in the case of a plea, the accused has not pled to the highest offense charged. This paragraph does not affect the victim's right to restitution as provided in title 18, United States Code.

(6) NO CAUSE OF ACTION.--Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to authorize a cause of action for damages or to create, to enlarge, or to imply any duty or obligation to any victim or other person for the breach of which the United States or any of its officers or employees could be held liable in damages. Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to impair the prosecutorial discretion of the Attorney General or any officer under his direction.

(e) DEFINITIONS.--For the purposes of this chapter, the term 'crime victim' means a person directly and proximately harmed as a result of the commission of a Federal offense or an offense in the District of Columbia. In the case of a crime victim who is under 18 years of age, incompetent, incapacitated, or deceased, the legal guardians of the crime victim or the representatives of the crime victim's estate, family members, or any other persons appointed as suitable by the court, may assume the crime victim's rights under this chapter, but in no event shall the defendant be named as such guardian or representative.

(f) PROCEDURES TO PROMOTE COMPLIANCE.--

(1) REGULATIONS.--Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of this chapter, the Attorney General of the United States shall promulgate regulations to enforce the rights of crime victims and to ensure compliance by responsible officials with the obligations described in law respecting crime victims.

(2) CONTENTS.--The regulations promulgated under paragraph (1) shall--

(A) designate an administrative authority within the Department of Justice to receive and investigate complaints relating to the provision or violation of the rights of a crime victim;

(B) require a course of training for employees and offices of the Department of Justice that fail to comply with provisions of Federal law pertaining to the treatment of crime victims, and otherwise assist such employees and offices in responding more effectively to the needs of crime victims;

(C) contain disciplinary sanctions, including suspension or termination from employment, for employees of the Department of Justice who willfully or wantonly fail to comply with provisions of Federal law pertaining to the treatment of crime victims; and

(D) provide that the Attorney General, or the designee of the Attorney General, shall be the final arbiter of the complaint, and that there shall be no judicial review of the final decision of the Attorney General by a complainant."

The Crime Victims' Rights Act gives victims of offenses charged in Federal court the following rights:

  • 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 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 the law.
  • The right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay.
  • We will make our best efforts to ensure you are provided the rights described. You may seek the advice of an attorney with respect to these rights. If you believe that your rights under the Crime Victims' Right Act have been violated, please click here to fill out a complaint form electronically. TIP: When filling out this form, use your mouse or press the "TAB" key on your keyboard to navigate throughout the form. Also, you must print the form and sign it before submitting it to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

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    THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROCESS

    As the case moves through the Federal court system, there are several events that typically occur.

    Investigation

    Arrest

    Detention Hearing (Possible)
    The Government is seeking to detain the defendant and may do so based on the statement of the prosecutor or by presenting witnesses and exhibits.

    Preliminary Hearing
    A Judge determines if there is sufficient probable cause to charge the defendant. This only occurs if the defendant has not been charged by the grand jury.

    or

    Grand Jury Hearing
    A Grand Jury hears evidence in a non-public proceeding and may issue a formal charged called an Indictment. An arrest warrant may be issued at this time.

    Arraignment
    A defendant appears in court and hears the charge(s) against him/her. At this time, the defendant typically enters a plea of not guilty.

    Discovery, Plea Negotiations, & Motions
    This may include hearings and rulings on motions concerning the admissibility of evidence, trial issues, or a possible guilty plea from the defendant.

    Trial
    The Government presents its case with witnesses, followed by the defendant's case. The trial generally results in a verdict by a jury.

    Pre-Sentence Investigation & Report Prepared
    After a finding of guilt, a pre-sentence report is prepared for the judge by U.S. Probation, at which time you have the right to submit written victim impact statements.

    Sentence

    Appeal

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    RESTITUTION & COMPENSATION

    Victim Compensation
    The Victim Compensation Program for the state of West Virginia helps cover expenses for victims of violent crime who have suffered physical or psychological injury. The Crime Victim Compensation Program may be able to reimburse you for crime related expenses such as medical care, mental health expenses, and lost wages due to crime related injuries. To obtain further information and an application, contact the Victim-Witness Coordinator listed on the Victims Resources page.

    Restitution
    Under Federal law, restitution is mandatory for many (but not all) types of crimes. It is important for victims, who may be entitled to restitution, to keep a record of their losses, medical expenses, property damage and counseling expenses, with receipts when possible. This information will be needed by the probation department if the defendant is convicted and ordered to pay restitution.

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    THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT OF CRIME

    Many victims of and witnesses to crime are emotionally affected by their experience and although everyone reacts differently, many people report common reactions such as:

  • Anger
  • Feelings of panic and/or anxiety
  • Nightmares and sleep pattern changes
  • Feelings of self-doubt, shame or guilt
  • Depression, difficulty concentrating
  • Increased concern for personal safety and that of their family
  • Many people continue to have these responses for some time after the crime. The Victim-Witness Unit can assist you in finding appropriate support services.

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    IF YOU ARE THREATENED OR HARASSED

    If anyone threatens you or you feel that you are being harassed because of your cooperation with a case, there are remedies available. Your safety is paramount. Please contact the investigative agent or the Victim-Witness Program immediately. They may discuss with you additional safety measures and assistance such as temporary restraining orders, possible relocation, or other appropriate referrals.

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    OTHER ASSISTANCE & SERVICES

    If you are a victim, you are entitled to:

  • Notification of case events, usually by letter or e-mail, through the Victim Notification System (VNS). You may also obtain information about your case by accessing this system at https://www.notify.usdoj.gov/index.jsp. This free, computer-based system provides two important services to victims: information and notification.
  • If the defendant is convicted and sentenced to the custody of the Bureau of Prisons (http://www.bop.gov), notification will continue regarding the defendant's release date, furlough, or escape. REMINDER: please keep us informed of any address, e-mail, or telephone number changes.
  • Referrals to other agencies or professionals for counseling, shelter, and/or compensation.
  • If you are a victim or a witness, you are entitled to:

  • A separate waiting area away from defendant and defense witnesses.
  • Courtroom support.
  • Information and assistance with travel, lodging, parking, and reimbursement for mandatory court appearances and pre-trial interviews.
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    LIMITED CONFIDENTIALITY STATEMENT

    We are here to assist you as you go through the criminal justice process. However, you should know that we work as part of a team with the criminal prosecutor and the investigative case agent. We do our best to keep sensitive information confidential. As part of the team, there are times when we may need to share information you provide with the other team members. This is especially important if you share information regarding your safety, a medical emergency, information that relates to child abuse, and/or information that is critical to the investigation or prosecution of the case.

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