Victims of crimes have a variety of rights protected by the state and federal law. All states and the federal government have passed laws to create laws to protect victims of crimes in order for them to be safe and also have victims come out and go to the police if they are being threatened or had a crime committed against them.

These laws require that victims have certain information, protections, and a limited role in the criminal justice process. They also vary by state, however most victims of crime can depend on many of the following rights:

1) Right to a Criminal Complaint

Crime victims cannot personally charge individuals with crimes because only the government may bring criminal charges. Crime victims, however, do generally have the right to notify the government that a crime has been committed and to request that criminal charges are made.

To report a crime, call the police. However, if you think the police might consider you to be a suspect, you should consult a lawyer first.

2) Right to Protection From the Accused

Crime victims have the right to be reasonably protected from further harm by the accused. This can include anonymity, protective orders, or even police protection.

3) Right to Be Informed

Crime victims have the right to know about the progress of the case. They have the right to know when the suspect is captured. In many states, victims also have the right to be notified about the status of the defendant, including the defendant's prison transfer, release or escape.

Although state laws vary, most states require that victims receive notice of the following events:

  • The arrest and arraignment of the accused;
  • Bail proceedings;
  • Pretrial proceedings;
  • Dismissal of any charges;
  • Plea negotiations;
  • Trial Process;
  • Sentencing;
  • Any Appeals;
  • Probation accused; and
  • Release or escape of the accused.

4) Right to Participate in the Criminal Process

Crime victims may have the right to participate in various parts of the prosecution of the defendant as long as such involvement does not infringe upon the constitutional rights of the accused. For example, crime victims generally have the right to be notified of proceedings, to be present during the trial, to testify and to be heard at sentencing. 

Crime victims may also have the right to be consulted before a case is dismissed or before the government enters a plea agreement with the defendant. In many states, victims also have the right to be notified about the status of the defendant, including the defendant's prison transfer, release or escape.

5) Right to Be Treated Fairly

Most states recognize the victim's right to be treated with fairness, compassion, and respect throughout the judicial process. Some states also extend the victim the right to be reasonably protected from the accused.

6) Right to Restitution

Crime victims generally have the right to restitution from those who have caused them harm. Restitution requires that a convicted criminal repay the victim for the damages they caused.

The court will determine and control restitution case by case, depending on the facts and the situations of the victim and criminal. The court orders the offender to pay a specific amount of restitution either in a lump sum or a series of payments. Some types of losses covered by restitution include:

  • Lost wages;
  • Property loss; and
  • Insurance deductibles.

7) Rights on a State By State Basis

Although most states confer the rights listed above, some states offer crime victims protection that other states might not have. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Right to an attorney at all proceedings;
  • Release of property confiscated as evidence;
  • Intervention with employers, landlords, or creditors;
  • Intervention with medical or counseling services;
  • Free copy of the police report;
  • Compensation for loss income; and
  • Compensation for burial expenses.

8) Right to a Speedy Trial

Both victims of crimes and the accused have the right to a speedy trial and there should be no unreasonable delays in the court process from the date of arrest.

What are the Limits on Victims’ Rights?

Although the political system makes every effort to empower crime victims, the law does impose limits on how much consideration victims can receive.

First, crime victim rights cannot exceed the rights of criminal defendants. Criminal defendants have the right to confront their accusers in court. They have the presumption that they are innocent until proven guilty. They also have the right to a fair trial, so the feelings of the victims, while important, cannot control the outcome of the case.

Second, while crime victims have the right to participate in the proceedings, the duty of criminal prosecutors is to society as a whole. As a result, prosecutors still retain their discretion in making plea bargains, charges, and trial strategies.

Since criminal proceedings are designed to punish criminal defendants for their conduct, the victim’s ability to collect restitution is often limited in criminal trials. As a result, victims must often go to civil court in order to force proper restitution from the defendant.

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Who Can Exercise Victim’s Rights?

The person or persons that can exercise victim’s rights would be the person who has been directly harmed by a crime that was committed by another person who is the accused. In some states, victims' rights only apply to victims of felonies or serious felonies and other states also give victim’s rights to victims of misdemeanors.

Some states even allow a family member of a homicide victim or the parent guardian of a minor to exercise victim’s rights and they get the same types of protections and rights.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Victim’s Rights?

The rights of the victim in a criminal case may vary by state, and according to the nature of the criminal case. If you need any advice regarding your rights, it is in your best interest to contact a criminal lawyer immediately. An experienced criminal attorney can help explain your rights according to the specific laws in your area.