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8 Crime Victim Rights You Should Know ... Plus the Caveats

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By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on November 20, 2015 10:05 AM

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.

The Rights

According to 18 U.S.C. section 3771, a crime victim has the following rights:

  1. The right to be reasonably protected from the accused.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. The right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving release, plea, sentencing, or any parole proceeding.
  5. The reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case.
  6. The right to full and timely restitution as provided in law.
  7. The right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay.
  8. The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim's dignity and privacy.

The Wrinkles

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.

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