Department of Justice Seal

Remarks as Delivered by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey at the National Crime Victims' Rights Week Awards Ceremony

Washington, D.C.
Friday, April 11, 2008 - 2:30 P.M.

Good afternoon. Thank you, Jeff; and thank you, John, for your years of service to the Department of Justice, the people of the United States, and the cause of protecting the rights of victims of crime.

At the Department of Justice, we are well aware that a crime does not end with the commission of that crime. The crime victim continues to suffer during the investigation, during the trial, and in many cases for years afterward. Our system is designed to bring justice through the application of the law, but that system isn't always easy on the victim. As I said last night, we are aware also that the justice our system provides must include the victims of crime not only as a matter of grace but as a matter or right.

It wasn't so long ago that merely being a victim of crime, almost any crime, was almost a stigmatizing experience. The prevalence of that attitude was one reason why, in 1981, President Reagan first proclaimed the observance of National Crime Victims' Rights Week in April of every year. President Reagan’s initiative was the beginning of a broad effort to change how we think of crime victims and how they are treated.

This effort continues with the events of this week and next. Last night, I participated in a candlelight ceremony, a solemn event in which we gathered to remember crime victims and to rededicate ourselves to efforts to help crime victims. Today, we gather to recognize those who have made in some cases life-long commitments and sacrifices to further assist the victims of crimes. The effort on behalf of crime victims continues every day. It continues through the efforts of the Department of Justice, and through the hard work and dedication of all of you here today — not just the conferring of awards on the recipients, but the recognition of the importance of everyone involved in this field. These collective efforts have made a great difference in how our society treats crime victims, and you are to be congratulated for your success.

A couple of months ago I had an opportunity to meet with representatives from several victims’ rights organizations in a roundtable discussion at the Department of Justice. One of the attendees at that roundtable, Dan Eddy, is also one of today’s award recipients. I've seen other familiar faces here today and last night as well. I was glad to have the chance at that meeting to hear for myself some of the views those groups have about our work, and ways we can continue working together to serve our common goals.

I said at that meeting what I want to say to you today: thank you for all that you do, for all you've done, and for all that I know you will do, to honor past victims of crime, to care for crime victims in our communities, and to prevent future tragedies from occurring.

At last night's candlelight ceremony, we heard the moving remarks of Dominick Dunne about the heartbreak he and his wife, Lenny, suffered not only when their daughter Dominique was murdered, but also in the ghastly treatment they received during the subsequent trial. We heard John Gillis tell how he and his wife, Patsy, had their daughter Louarna taken from as well. We heard how they, and other homicide survivors, came together in their grief to support and educate each other, despite the tragedies they suffered.

Next week will be John's seventh, and final, National Crime Victims' Rights Week as director of the Office for Victims of Crime. I want to thank him for his service to the Department of Justice and for his efforts on behalf of crime victims.

The Department’s recent accomplishments in protecting the interests of crime victims are substantial, and I want to mention just a few of them.

Last August, we announced our first payments under the International Terrorism Victim Expense Reimbursement Program, which was set up to help pay expenses for victims of terrorist acts committed abroad. The first payments went to aid victims of the bombings in Bali, Indonesia in 2002 and in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2003.

We have made progress in fighting identity theft and aiding victims of that crime. The financial toll of identity theft can be crippling, and, as many victims will tell you, it is often accompanied by emotional distress. Last December, we announced millions of dollars in grants to provide direct assistance to victims of identity theft and fraud through efforts like legal assistance and counseling.

The Department has also expanded its support for nine legal clinics around the country that provide direct pro bono representation to victims in state, federal, and tribal criminal courts. The work of these clinics can be invaluable.

In 2006, for example, one clinic we support in New Jersey represented victims in a case against a nurse who was the worst serial killer in the state's history, having murdered more than 30 of his patients. The defendant refused to appear at his sentencing hearing—a shattering development for the victim survivors who had been waiting for this chance to give their loved ones a voice. It would have been a cruel injustice to those families to let the killer deprive them of their chance to voice their pain and sorrow through the simple expedient of his not being there.

The New Jersey Crime Victims' Law Center filed a motion to compel the defendant's attendance, with one mother saying plainly: "It is as important to me as breathing air that the defendant be present when I read my victim impact statement." The judge agreed, and at sentencing more than 40 victim survivors spoke and showed photos of their loved ones.

This is just one example of what the Department of Justice is helping to do to help the victims of crime.

I'm proud of the fine work done by the men and women in the Department of Justice, and of the dedication and example of our award recipients tonight. In this mission, as in all of our efforts, we are dependent upon the great work of our partners in the community and in law enforcement at the state and local levels. These are big jobs, and we can’t do them alone.

Those we honor today—these professionals, volunteers, public servants, and especially crime victims—deal with some of the most wrenching of human experiences. They have chosen a vocation that brings them into daily contact with tragedy, but they do it willingly to help others. I'm here to tell you that I, and the Department of Justice, are grateful for their efforts.

I thank you, all of you, for the important contributions you make, and I thank you for inviting me to be a part of today's event.

Thank you very much.