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In criminal law there is, rightly, much concern about the rights of the accused. These rights are designed to ensure that only the guilty are convicted. But victims have rights, too.
The Crime Victims' Rights Act provides 8 explicit prerogatives that belong to victims. The terms are defined in the federal code, and posted on the Department of Justice's website. The section explains the procedures for ensuring that victims' rights are not trampled.
According to 18 U.S.C. section 3771, a crime victim has the following rights:
The Crime Victims' Rights Act also takes account for situations where there are multiple victims and it is simply not possible to "accord all of the crime victims the rights described." In those cases, courts must "fashion a reasonable procedure to give effect to this chapter that does not unduly complicate or prolong the proceedings."
In other words, what the law tells judges is that if they can't meet all the requirements of the section for everyone, they have to come up with a relatively fair and simple alternative. That can be a tall order but that is the instruction.
Interestingly, the code also specifies that defendants, those accused of a crime, cannot avail themselves of the section. It's a deceptively simple statement that many people might consider unnecessary. But it is there because criminal cases can inspire some very creative lawyering. When a person's freedom is on the line, few arguments seem too absurd to at least try.
A third wrinkle worth noting is that on appeal of a criminal case, prosecutors may assert a failure to assure victims' rights as error and a basis for reversal. That means the state has an interest in closely watching the court's treatment of victims.
But there is one right the code explicitly denies victims, and that is the right to sue authorities for relief in the form of monetary damages based on an abuse of the rights afforded in the act. In other words, the law ensures that victims do not sue the government for negligence stemming from their treatment in criminal cases.
If you or someone you know is a victim of crime, speak to an attorney about victims' rights.