Victims' Rights

All states, the District of Columbia, and most U.S. territories have statutory or constitutional provisions that enumerate rights and protections for victims of crime. Two key federal laws also address victims’ rights. The Crime Victims’ Rights Act (18 U.S.C § 3771), enacted in 2004, specifies a broad set of rights for victims of federal crimes and authorizes federal funding for programs to assist victims in asserting, accessing and enforcing those rights. The Victims of Crimes Act (42 U.S. Code Chapter 112), enacted in 1984, authorizes crime victim compensation and assistance to victims of federal and state crimes. These federal and state provisions generally articulate the following rights for victims throughout the criminal justice process: to be informed of proceedings and events; to attend proceedings and be heard; to proceedings free from unreasonable delay; to privacy and protection from intimidation and harassment; to restitution from the offender and to apply for crime victim compensation; and to enforcement of these rights and access to other available remedies. The Office for Victims of Crime supports an extensive searchable database (VictimLaw) of federal and state victims’ rights statutes, tribal laws, constitutional amendments, court rules, administrative code provisions, and case summaries of related court decisions.

According to a 2015 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), nearly all states have laws that address more specifically the rights and interests of victims in pretrial release decision making and supervision. NCSL maintains a searchable database of these rights and protections. They relate to notice of proceedings and events (e.g., the pretrial release hearing and release of the defendant from jail); participation and input into proceedings (e.g., consultation about the possibility of the defendant’s release and potential release conditions); victim protection (e.g., required periods of detention for certain crimes before the defendant can be released, orders that restrict contact with the victim, and use of technology to alert the victim when the defendant is within a specified distance); victim compensation and restitution (e.g., two states authorize restitution without a finding of guilt); and privacy (e.g., prohibiting disclosure of victim identifying information in criminal justice records and contact information provided for notification). Although a broad range of rights and protections are afforded to victims, many victims are unaware of these rights or how to exercise them. Courts, justice system partners, and victim service providers should collaborate to educate victims about these critical avenues to meaningful participation in the criminal justice system.

Key Resources