The Victim Witness Services Unit for the United States Attorneys Office, Southern District of Iowa, provides services, support, and education to victims and witnesses of federal crimes. Staff is committed to ensuring that victims and witnesses are treated with fairness and respect and receive information and assistance for relevant services. Some of those services include notification of significant court events, referral to appropriate support services, reasonable protection from the accused, help determining and requesting restitution, and the return of property and information concerning the conviction, sentencing, imprisonment, and release of the offender. Witnesses, upon request, will be notified of significant court events, convictions, and sentences. Witnesses are offered support through trial, preparation of travel arrangements, and special services, as appropriate.
Des Moines, Iowa Office
Victim Witness Coordinator
or email Christina.Busse@usdoj.gov
Maps for Victims
The staff of the Victim Witness Services Unit provides support, services, and information to victims and witnesses of crime.
Through this unit, victims of crime will receive --
- Information and support in obtaining necessary services
- Notice of upcoming court hearings and the outcome of those hearings
- Notice of bail hearings and the opportunity to present concerns to the court
- Assistance with travel and hotel arrangements, if necessary, when under subpoena
- The opportunity to confer with an attorney for the government as is appropriate
- Information concerning protection from the accused
- An invitation to and assistance in submitting victim impact informationprior to sentencing
- Assistance determining and requesting restitution
- Information concerning the Victim Compensation Fund
- Support throughout any court proceeding
- Information concerning the conviction, sentence, and release date of the defendant
Some of the services are accomplished by mail, phone, or e-mail. Some services must be done in person. Many notifications are received through the Victim Notification System (VNS). This automated phone system provides information concerning historical and scheduled court events, sentencing information, federal facility designation and potential release dates of offenders. Victims of federal crime can receive this information by mail, through the automated phone system (1-866-DOJ-4YOU), e-mail, fax, phone, or on the Web.
The victim witness staff make every effort to accommodate any special needs that victims or witnesses may have to participate in the prosecution of a case comfortably. This includes the use of interpreters, issues of physical assessibility, and transportation. It is important that the staff be made aware of any special needs as soon as possible to ensure the best accommodations possible.
As a crime victim, you have the following rights under 18 United States Code Section 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 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 (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 accorded the rights described. You may also seek the advice of a private attorney concerning these rights and your assertion of these rights in federal district court. Be advised that the law does not require providing information that may endanger the safety of any person.
If you feel that there has been a violations of these rights, you may download the complaint form and submit the form to the address noted at the top of the form.
A new internet site is available for the Office of the Victims' Rights Ombudsman. The site contains information for victims about the Justice for All Act of 2004, Department of Justice regulations, the procedures and process for filing an administrative complaint, complaint forms (in English and Spanish), contact information for each United States Attorney's Office and Department of Justice component, and other useful links.
For more information about these rights, please contact the Victim/Witness Assistance Program at the U.S. Attorney's Office at ( 515)-473-9300.
You know better than anyone else how your life has changed as a result of this crime. The affect of the crime, told by the victim of the crime, is information that cannot be obtained from any other source.
Victim Impact Statements have become an important tool in the criminal justice process. A Victim Impact Statement is a detailed account of the emotional, physical, and financial effects the crime has had on the victim and family members. It will give you the opportunity to help the court understand the many ways that this crime has affected you and those close to you. Your statement, or summary of it, will become a formal part of the court record and will be available to the defendant and his or her attorney. As a victim, you have the right to allocution, or to be reasonably heard, and may also address the Judge in order to express your feelings and reactions to this crime. The Victim Impact Statement and victim allocution will give the court a good understanding of how this crime has changed your life.
In preparing your statement, you may wish to think about issues such as:
- Has your ability to relate to people changed since the crime?
- Have your feelings about yourself changed in any way?
- Has the crime affected your lifestyle or the lifestyle of your family, close friends or coworkers?
- Has the crime affected your ability to earn a living or to work?
The Judge will also be considering the matter of restitution in your case. Restitution is a Judge's order that a defendant make payment to you or your corporation for your actual financial losses resulting from the crime. The Judge may use the information provided by you in the Victim Impact Statement to determine what amount, if any, of restitution is ordered to be paid to each victim. There is no guarantee, however, that the defendant will be able to pay any amount even if it is ordered by the Judge. Restitution orders in criminal cases are independent of and different from monetary awards in civil cases.
Examples of items which may be claimed for restitution include:
- Medical expenses not fully covered by insurance
- Lost property or repairs to property you have recovered
- Money illegally taken or any additional financial expenses as a result of this crime
If you are a victim, and have questions regarding Victim Impact Statements, or your right to personally address the court at sentencing, please call our main office in Des Moines, Iowa at (515) 473-9300 and ask to speak with the Victim Witness staff.
In order to access these forms and some brochures please see Victim Forms and Brochures.
Federal law curtails the type of information the federal government may disclose in juvenile proceedings. Therefore, you may not be able to receive updates about the progress of these matters in the same manner that you would if an adult was being prosecuted. However, at the request of the victim, we can provide information of the final disposition (e.g., the adjudication and sentence) after the conclusion of any proceeding against a juvenile. To be notified of any such final disposition, this office must receive a written request.
Although this office is somewhat limited when disclosing information concerning a juvenile proceeding, the victim is NOT limited in submitting information to us. The victim has the right to submit any information about how this crime affected him/her and his/her family and may provide views about appropriate disposition of the matter. If you are a victim of a juvenile federal offense and you wish to provide information or thoughts, please send them to the Victim Witness Services Unit. Your comments will be forwarded to the appropriate party.
Under federal law, restitution is mandatory for many types of crimes. 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 (515)-473-9300. 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 Courts, 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.'
Do I have to wait until the defendant gets out of jail to recover my losses?
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 Attorneys Office nor the Department of Justice, nor any employee thereof, is your attorney. The United States Attorneys Office will not seek your consent to any action it may undertake to pursue enforcement of the restitution order.
What happens when the defendant is released from probation and still owes me money? Who will collect it?
The Financial Litigation Unit of the United States Attorneys Office will continue to attempt to collect the restitution for a period of 20 years from the time of sentence plus any incarceration time. It is your responsibility to make sure that office and the Clerk of Court have updated contact information for you. 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 Attorneys 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 Iowa, this fund is administered through the Iowa Department of Justice. 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.
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 staff. They are available to discuss additional protective measures with you, such as temporary restraining orders and re-location. 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.
The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that victims of federal crime are treated fairly as their case moves through the criminal justice system.
In order to provide victims with information on case events, the Department of Justice has developed the Victim Notification System (VNS). This page will provide you with information about VNS.
Victim Notification System (VNS)
VNS is a cooperative effort between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), the United States Attorneys' offices, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
This free, computer-based system provides two important services to victims: information and notification. This information is available in English and Spanish.
VNS can inform you of:
- Information on scheduled court hearings.
- An offender's custody status, such as placement in community corrections centers, furlough, release, or death.
VNS Information Registration:
You will receive a Victim Identification Number (VIN) and a Personal Identification Number (PIN) that will allow you to access the system. You may write those numbers on the attached tear-off card to keep with you.
If you have chosen to participate in VNS, but have not received these numbers, please contact either the federal law enforcement agency or the U.S. Attorney's office handling your case.
Your VIN and PIN numbers are both required when receiving information or any time you contact the Call Center.
The VNS Call Center:
You may call 1-866-365-4968 for current defendant custody and court 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.
Aside from calling the VNS Call Center, you may choose to receive information on case events by telephone, E-mail, numeric pager, or fax.
Please note that in some instances, VNS may first contact you by phone.
Below are some common questions about VNS. If at any time you have a question about VNS that is not answered here, please feel free to contact your local FBI or U.S. Attorney's office.
1. What if I forget my PIN?
If you cannot remember your VIN or PIN numbers, please contact the person indicated on your initial notification letter or the Victim-Witness Coordinator at your local U.S. Attorney's office.
2. What if I am not at home or my phone is busy when VNS calls?
If you are not at home of if your telephone line is busy, the Call Center will continue calling you every 30 minutes. If the call is answered, but is not confirmed with your PIN number, VNS will continue to call every 2 hours.
3. When can I call VNS?
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.
For International Callers:
4. Does the Victim Notification System ensure my safety?
No. Do not depend on VNS to ensure your safety. If you feel that you are being threatened, immediately notify law enforcement.
5. What should I do if my contact information changes?
If your address or phone number changes, you may contact the VNS Call Center (1-866-365-4968 & provide your VNS VIN & PIN); the person indicated on your initial notification letter; or the Victim-Witness Coordinator at the U.S. Attorney's Office.
6. Must I receive notification?
If you do not wish to receive notification you may contact the VNS Call Center (1-866-365-4968 & provide your VNS VIN & PIN, Select Opt Out option); the person indicated on your initial notification letter; or the Victim-Witness Coordinator at the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Victim Identification Number (VIN)
Personal Identification Number (PIN)
Not all relevant information regarding a case will be contained within VNS. Victims may contact the respective agency staff for additional information.
The FBI's Victim Specialist will be in contact with you during the investigation stage of the case. Notifications which may be provided include the arrest of a suspect, whether the case is declined for prosecution, or whether the case is being referred to state or local authorities.
Prosecution: United States Attorneys' Offices
Once criminal charges are filed by the U.S. Attorney's office, a Victim-Witness Coordinator will be in contact with you. Notifications which the U.S. Attorney's office may provide include the filing of charges, the scheduling of court proceedings, and the sentencing.
Incarceration: Bureau of Prisons
If a defendant is incarcerated at a federal prison, you will be able to receive information through the Federal Bureau of Prison's Victim Notification program on release-related activities including community corrections center placement, furlough, parole hearings, escape, and death.