To aid compliance with the Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance and corresponding federal statutes, each of the 94 U.S. Attorneys’ offices has a Victim-Witness Program managed by a Victim-Witness Coordinator or Program Manager, and in some cases, supplemented with additional victim-witness personnel, including a dvocates, assistants, and specialists. There were approximately 223 victim-witness positions in Fiscal Year (FY) 2010, 170 of which have been supported by the Crime Victims Fund since 2000. In addition to affording victims their rights due under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act and other federal statutes, victim-witness personnel provide a wide range of assistance and services to victims that typically expand over a very long period of time. Victim-witness personnel provide victims with notifications of case status and hearings using the Victim Notification System (VNS), and they assist victims throughout the judicial process by providing referrals to organizations and services for counseling, access to medical care, assistance with accessing victim’s compensation programs, applying for continued presence and other immigration relief, assistance with victim employers and creditors, and translation and interpreter services.
Since passage of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act, offices have seen an increase in victim participation in the criminal justice system. As such, in FY 2010, victim-witness personnel provided more direct victim assistance than ever before:
- Victim-witness personnel accompanied over 19,000 victims to court hearings and trials. Court accompaniment helps ensure that victim participation is meaningful, as victim-witness personnel are available to answer questions and explain the federal judicial process.
- Victim-witness personnel attended approximately 22,400 hearings.
- Referral assistance to victims increased 20% to 23,244 referrals made in FY 2010.
- Victim-witness personnel recorded 202,215 direct contacts with victims in person, on the telephone, or through email, also a 20% increase from last fiscal year.
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Notification, Information and Case Status
The Crime Victims’ Rights Act gives victims the right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any public court proceeding. Public court proceedings include the initial appearance, scheduling changes and/or continuances, acceptance of a plea, trial, the rendering of a verdict after trial, sentencing, and other events.
The Victim Notification System (VNS) is a shared application involving the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Criminal Division, the U.S. Attorneys’ offices, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and provides the above-mentioned components with a uniform method for notifying victims of crime about the progress of the investigation, prosecution or corrections stage of a case. VNS also provides information to victims through its Victim Internet System (VIS), a website that allows victims to view all approved notifications and corresponding documents and to update personal contact information and notification preferences. In FY 2010, victims logged onto VIS 155,244 times.
The Crime Victims’ Rights Act, the Victims’ Rights and Restitution Act, and the Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance require agencies to provide additional information to victims throughout the duration of a criminal case, to include, notification of their rights, information about the right to attend trial, information about the right to seek the advice of an attorney, information about the criminal justice process, and information about submitting an impact statement. U.S. Attorneys’ offices’ victim-witness personnel are in compliance with these and other provisions by regularly providing this information through VNS, in addition to their personal contact with victims.
Role of the Assistant United States Attorney
Assistant United States Attorney prosecute federal criminal cases and have a unique and equally important obligation to victims in affording their rights and ensuring they receive comprehensive services. Prosecutors have a responsibility to afford victims their rights throughout the court process which may include informing the court about a victim’s interest in being heard, ensuring timely notification of case events, and working out restitution information prior to sentencing. Prosecutors take a more active role in protecting private victim information in records or documents that are placed in public record. They also have legal obligations to makes themselves available for consultation with victims on major case decisions and proposed plea negotiations, when applicable. Furthermore, prosecutors must be aware of their obligations under applicable state, tribal, and federal laws to particularly vulnerable victims such as child victims and victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. From handling legal matters in a public courtroom to sitting privately and listening to a victim, the Assistant United States Attorney’s role is all-encompassing when it comes to seeking justice for victims of crime.