This week is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week. The American criminal justice system is often criticized for giving many rights to criminal defendants, but in recent decades victims have also won substantial legal rights.
The first crime victim compensation fund was established in California in 1965, but the first Crime Victims’ rights week wasn’t held until 1975 in Pennsylvania. From 1974 to today, there have been several pieces of legislation that provide specific rights and assistance to victims of crime.
The most notable are the 1984 Victims of Crime Act, the 1994 Violence against Women Act, and the 2004 Justice for All Act. In combination, these acts provide funding for programs, training, and technical assistance to criminal justice programs across the country.
The Crime Victims Rights Act gives specific rights to victims in federal criminal cases. These include:
(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.
How do these rights compare with victims’ actual experiences? Things don’t always happen the way they should, but legislative protection for victims is an essential part of contemporary criminal justice.