What Are Your Rights if You Are the Victim of a Crime

Historically, the rights of crime victims was given little thought in criminal proceedings. Although in a sense the prosecutor is an advocate for the crime victim, prosecutors were without any formal obligation to keep crime victims informed of the progress of a case, to inform them about possible plea bargains, or to let them know the outcome of a prosecution or, when the defendant was convicted, the punishment imposed upon the defendant.

In recent decades, Congress and the states have formally recognized the rights of victims of crimes. Prosecutors have specific duties toward the victims of crimes, and many prosecutors offices now have a victim's rights officer or multiple employees who act as liaisons between the prosecution and the victim.

Crime Victims Rights

Although the specific rights afforded to crime victims will vary from state to state, typical victim's rights laws give crime victims:

  • The right to be informed of all court proceedings relating to their case,

  • The right to be informed of any plea offers extended to the defendant,

  • The right to make a statement to the court at the time of sentencing,

  • The right to an order that a convicted defendant pay restitution for losses they suffered as a result of criminal activity,

  • The right to be informed of the sentence received by the convicted defendant, and,

  • If the defendant is sentenced to prison, the right to submit a statement to a parole board and the right to be informed if the defendant is released on parole.

Most states have victims' compensation funds that may provide some financial compensation to crime victims, and which may also provide funds for counseling.

Restitution and Victim's Compensation

Restitution is financial compensation to a victim for economic losses suffered as the result of a crime, paid as part of a defendant's sentence. Crime victims may seek restitution for their financial losses through the court in which a defendant is being prosecuted.

If the defendant has any reasonable prospect of paying restitution for economic damage caused by a crime, most states now require that a criminal court award restitution to the victim of the crime. A court must consider a defendant's financial means when awarding restitution, and thus restitution may not fully compensate a crime victim, but in many contexts it is the only realistic opportunity the victim has to receive financial compensation for a criminal's conduct.

It is important for a crime victim to submit a timely claim for restitution, along with any supportive documentation requested by a probation department or prosecutor. The failure to present a timely claim will often result in the loss of opportunity to have the defendant ordered to pay restitution. If losses are not properly documented, those losses may be omitted from a request for restitution or their amount may be omitted from the amount of restitution the court ultimately orders the defendant to pay.

If a defendant fails to pay restitution, a court may treat the failure as a probation violation. If the defendant is unable to pay restitution, at the time the defendant is discharged from his sentence, some states will automatically convert any remaining balance into a civil judgment that the victim may attempt to collect.

Although crime victims may seek judgments through civil courts, most defendants don't have the financial means to pay a judgment, insurance coverage normally excludes damages caused by criminal acts, and even defendants who have the means to pay will often do their utmost to avoid paying a civil judgment. A civil judgment may be much larger than a restitution order, due to the possibility of recovering an award of damages for pain and suffering, while restitution is normally limited to provable economic damages.

What Happens When The Offender Gets Out Of Prison?

In some states, after conviction, a crime victim must request to be informed of any parole proceedings or decisions. In other states, as long as the prosecutor has the victim's contact information, that information will be provided automatically.

The prosecutor's office that handles your case should be able to inform you of your specific rights.

Copyright © 2000 Aaron Larson, All rights reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced without the express written permission of the copyright holder. If you use a quotation, excerpt or paraphrase of this article, except as otherwise authorized in writing by the author of the article you must cite this article as a source for your work and include a link back to the original article from any online materials that incorporate or are derived from the content of this article.

This article was last reviewed or amended on Apr 6, 2018.