The Victim Witness Assistance Program for the United States Attorney’s Office, Middle District of Louisiana, is designed to provide victims and witnesses of federal crimes with services, support and education while involved with the criminal justice system. The Middle District of Louisiana encompasses nine parishes - Ascension, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberville, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, St. Helena, West Baton Rouge, West Feliciana.
Definition of Victim:
In general, a victim is any innocent person or entity 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.
According to the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982, a victim is "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."
As a victim, you may be experiencing feelings of confusion, frustration, fear, and anger. Our staff is available to provide supportive services to innocent victims and witnesses of a crime. You have certain rights and the Victim-Witness Staff is here to help you understand these rights, to ensure that you are accorded those rights and services, and to help you better understand how the criminal justice system works.
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.
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.
CONTACT INFORMATION FOR THE VICTIM WITNESS COORDINATOR
Holly T. Sheets
Victim Witness Coordinator
United States Attorney’s Office - Middle District of Louisiana
777 Florida Street, Suite 208
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70801
Telephone: (225) 336-8887
Toll Free: (877) 242-1884
Fax: (225) 389-0561
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.
Victim Witness Information Directory
Services to Victims and Witnesses
Victim Impact Statements
Threats and Intimidation
Commonly Asked Restitution Questions
Crime Victims’ Compensation
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.
• 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 (42 U.S.C. 10607(c)) and provided contact information for the Office of the Victims' Rights Ombudsman of the Department of Justice.
We will make our best efforts to ensure you are provided the rights described. Section 3771(c)(2) requires that we advise you that you have the right to retain counsel. Although the Act specifically sets forth your right to seek advice of an attorney with regard to your rights under the Act, there is no requirement that you retain counsel. The Government cannot advise you about specific counsel, nor can the Government (or the Court) pay for counsel to represent you.
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. – Complaint Form (.pdf)
Notification. The Victim-Witness Coordinator provides notification to victims and witnesses regarding case status and court proceedings.
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 Coordinator is available to ensure that your views are expressed to the Assistant United States Attorney assigned to the case.
Court Assistance. The Victim-Witness Coordinator is available to accompany you to any court proceeding.
The Criminal Justice Process. The judicial system can be very confusing to those who are experiencing this for the first time. The coordinator 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 coordinator 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 Coordinator will provide victims with a list of applicable services located in the victim's area. The coordinator 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 Coordinator or the U.S. Probation Office in Baton Rouge 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 Coordinator will explain the process to you.
Protection for Victims and Witnesses. The Victim-Witness Coordinator 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 Coordinator 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 Coordinator 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 Coordinator 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 Coordinator for assistance.
The Victim-Witness Assistance Program provides many important services for crime victims, including crisis support, peer support, referral to counseling, advocacy within the justice system, and, in some cases, emergency shelter. However, we cannot make financial rewards, do not provide legal advice, and cannot pay for the replacement of stolen or damaged property.
The U.S. Department of Justice has created the Victim Notification System (VNS). Once a defendant is charged with a federal crime, all victims will be provided notification concerning the status of the case. Unless the victim specifically requests not to be notified, the following notifications will be made.
• the arrest of the defendant;
• the nature of the charges against the defendant;
• the scheduling of each court proceeding that you are either required or entitled to attend;
• the pre-trial release on bail or detention status of the defendant;
• the acceptance of a plea of guilty or the rendering of a verdict after trial;
• the sentence imposed on the defendant; and
• the notice of appeal.
If you are a federal crime victim, you will receive a Victim Identification Number (VIN) and Personal Identification Number (PIN). You 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.
You may also 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.
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.
If a defendant is incarcerated in the federal Bureau of Prisons, further information may be obtained directly from the BOP website. http://www.bop.gov. Once on the BOP website, click the "Inmate Locator" button, then search the database by the defendant's name.
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 anyone threatens you or you feel that you are being harassed because of your cooperation in a case, there are remedies available. Your safety is paramount. If something happens that places you in fear, immediately call your local law enforcement. Then, contact the investigating agent or the Victim Witness Coordinator. They are available to discuss additional protective measures with you. In addition, there are penalties for harassment and other threats. Therefore, for your safety, it is important that you report incidences of harassment and/or threats as soon as possible.
Under federal law, restitution is mandatory for many types of crimes. While there is no guarantee that payment will be made, it is important for those 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 someone is convicted and ordered to pay restitution.
Restitution collection is enforced by the Financial Litigation Unit at the U.S. Attorney's Office. If you have questions about restitution payments and disbursements, please call the Financial Litigation Unit, at (225) 389-0443. You will need the name of the defendant.
Restitution ordered in criminal cases does not cover pain and suffering. As a practical matter, restitution collection is limited by the resources of the defendant. If you become aware of any change in the economic circumstances of the defendant, please call the Financial Litigation Unit. The liability to pay restitution issued under the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act lasts 20 years plus any period of incarceration or until the death of the defendant.
Some or all of your loss may consist of property or monies that is recovered by the investigating agency. This will be returned to you as quickly as is possible without jeopardizing the case. Often, one must wait until appeals are exhausted before evidence is returned.
Who gets restitution? Does a judge have to order restitution?
Restitution may be ordered by the court at the time of sentencing. Restitution must be ordered by the court in certain types of crimes.
- A crime of violence
- A crime against property, under United States Title 18, including fraud and deceit
- A crime of sexual abuse
- A crime of sexual exploitation or other abuses against children
- A crime of domestic violence
- A crime of telemarketing fraud
If restitution is ordered, the defendant will send payments to the Clerk of Court, who will keep track of the balance owed and disburse money. Usually individual victims of crimes are paid before insurance companies, federal agencies, and state governments. If your insurance company covered any or all of your loss, please convey the name of the insurance company, address, contact person, and claim number to our office.
How can I recover my losses if I am not a victim of a crime described above?
Sometimes restitution can be agreed to in a plea agreement between the defendant and the government. A judge can also order restitution when he or she finds that it is appropriate.
What losses does restitution cover?
Restitution covers actual loss of property, medical expenses, counseling, funeral and burial costs, and sometimes lost wages. Restitution will not be ordered for psychological ‘pain and suffering.'
What happened to all of 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.
When will I get my money?
The 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 receive a check in the mail.
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.
The Inmate Financial Responsibility Program (IFRP) allows prisoners to work in the prison industry and earn very low wages. The IFRP requires that 50 percent of those wages are applied to restitution and fines. This is a voluntary program. An inmate cannot be forced to participate. The money is forwarded to the Clerk of Court, who will then make disbursement to victims.
Does the United States Attorneys Office act as my attorney to collect the money owed to me?
No. The United States Attorneys Office will enforce the restitution imposed by the judgment in a criminal case as attorneys for the United States of America. While this enforcement benefits you as a victim of a crime, neither the United States Attorney’s Office nor the Department of Justice, nor any employee thereof, is your attorney. The United States Attorney’s Office will not seek your consent to any action it may undertake to pursue enforcement of the restitution order.
How long with 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.
A victim named in a restitution order may obtain an Abstract of Judgment from the Clerk of the United States District Court and record or register the Abstract in accordance with state law to obtain a lien against the property of the defendant in the same manner and to the same extent and under the same conditions as a judgment of a court of general jurisdiction of the state in which the loss was incurred. The United States Attorney’ss Office cannot consult with you regarding your individual rights to pursue civil litigation against a defendant. You may wish to consult with a private attorney to obtain information about your ability to proceed against a defendant to recover losses or damages you sustained as a result of this crime.
What if I cannot wait that long to pay my bills? Why should I have to pay for his crime anyway?
If you are the victim or family member of a victim of a violent crime and suffered physical or mental harm, you may be eligible for funds through the Victim Compensation Fund. This fund provides reimbursement for medical, counseling, dental, funeral expenses, lost wages, and lost support in eligible cases. In Minnesota, this fund is administered through the Office of Justice Programs . Each state, including Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Marianna Islands, have victim compensation programs. Each program is a little bit different and compensates differently. If you were a victim or a family member of a victim of a violent crime that occurred in another state, you can learn more about that program through the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards. If you were a victim of a violent crime in another country, you can learn more about international programs at the Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime Web site.
Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement Crime Victims Reparations Program Applications can be obtained from any Louisiana Sheriff’s Office. Each Parish Sheriff’s Office has a designated contact person in his office who can assist you. You can also contact this office for assistance. Completed applications are to be returned to the Sheriff’s Office in the Parish where the crime occurred.
If in doubt, call the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement, Crime Victim’s Reparations Board at 1-866-6VICTIM or (225) 925-4437.
• The crime must have occurred in Louisiana or in a state or country with no compensation program.
• You must have reported the crime to law enforcement officials within 72 hours unless there was a valid reason for later reporting.
• You must file the application within one year from the date of the crime unless there was good cause for filing late.
• You must provide the required information on the application.
• Your losses must not be reimbursable from any other source such as insurance, sick or annual leave, social security, Medicare, Medicaid, civil suit or restitution. If you have access to any of these or other resources, you must use those first.
• You must cooperate with the reasonable requests of law enforcement officials.
As a result of injury:
• for personal injury; medical, hospital, dental, nursing, physical therapy, psychiatric care, or mental health counseling;
• actual loss of past earnings because of a disability resulting from the personal injury;
• care of children enabling a victim or the spouse, but not both, to engage in gainful employment.
As a consequence of death:
• funeral, burial or cremation expenses;
• loss of support to one or more dependents not otherwise compensated for personal injury loss;
• care of children enabling the surviving spouse or legal guardian of deceased victim’s children to engage in lawful employment, where that expense is not otherwise compensated for personal injury loss;
• counseling or therapy for any surviving family member of the victim or co-habitor of such victim.
From catastrophic loss of your home by arson.
Expenses of the victim associated with the collection and securing of crime scene evidence.
National Resource Numbers
National Organization for Victim Assistance
National Center for Victims of Crime
Childhelp USA National Hotline
Mother’s Against Drunk Driving
National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Fraud Information Hotline
National Resource Center on Child Abuse & Neglect
National Resource Center on Child Sexual Assault
Parents of Murdered Children
Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network
Federal Resource Numbers
U.S. Attorney’s Office - Middle District of Louisiana
U.S. Attorney’s Office - Eastern District of Louisiana
U.S. Attorney’s Office - Western District of Louisiana
Federal Bureau of Investigation - Victim/Witness Specialist
State and Local Resource Numbers
Battered Women’s Program Domestic Violence Hotline
Child Protection Services
Louisiana Domestic Violence Hotline
Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence (LCADV)
Statewide Domestic Violence Crisis Line