What Federal Rights Do Crime Victims Have?
Two federal statutes describe the federal Government’s responsibilities to crime victims. The Victims’ Rights and Restitution Act (VRRA) (34 U.S.C. § 20141) describes the services the federal government is required to provide to victims of federal crime. The Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA) (18 U.S.C. § 3771) sets forth the rights that a person has as a crime victim. For purposes of these rights and services, victims are defined in specific ways in the law.
Under the Victims’ Rights and Restitution Act (VRRA), 34 U.S.C. § 20141, some of the services victims are entitled to include:
- To be informed of the place where they may receive medical and social services
- To be informed of public and private programs available for counseling, treatment, and other support services
- To receive reasonable protection from a suspected offender and persons acting in concert with or at the behest of the suspected offender
- To know the status of the investigation of the crime, to the extent it is appropriate and will not interfere with the investigation
- To have personal property being held for evidentiary purposes maintained in good condition and returned as soon as it is no longer needed for evidentiary purposes
Under the VRRA, a crime victim is a person who has suffered direct physical, emotional, or pecuniary (financial) harm as a result of a crime. If a crime victim is under 18 years of age, incompetent, incapacitated, or deceased, services should be provided to one of the following representatives of the victim (in order of preference): a spouse, legal guardian, parent, child, sibling, another family member, or another person designated by the court. More than one victim representative can be identified and provided with services depending on the circumstances. Under no circumstances shall a person culpable (responsible) for the crime be treated as a representative of a victim.
Additionally, under the Crime Victims' Rights Act (CVRA), 18 U.S.C. § 3771, victims have 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 law
- The right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay
- The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy
- The right to be informed in a timely manner of any plea bargain or deferred prosecution agreement
- The right to be informed of the rights under this section and the services described in section 503(c) of the Victims' Rights and Restitution Act of 1990 (34 U.S.C. § 20141(c)) and provided contact information for the Office of the Victims' Rights Ombudsman of the Department of Justice. The Victims’ Rights Ombudsman may be contacted at eousa.VictimOmbudsman@usdoj.gov if a victim believes a Department of Justice employee has failed to provide them their rights under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act
Under the CVRA, a crime victim is a person who has been directly and proximately harmed (physically, emotionally, or financially) 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, as long as that person is not a defendant in the crime being investigated or prosecuted. Foreign citizens may be victims in some cases. Businesses, corporations, and non-profit organizations can be eligible victims, and an authorized representative of the entity should be designated for purposes of notification.