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National Crime Victim Law Institute

Featured Right: Fairness

January 31, 2012

Fairness is the right to have one’s rights affirmatively considered within the criminal justice system and to participate in a meaningful way throughout the criminal justice process. Fairness is both a substantive and procedural right.

Some states have explicitly defined what they mean by “fairness.” For example, Utah defines fairness as “treating the crime victim reasonably, even-handedly, and impartially.” Utah Code Ann. §77-38-2(8). A federal trial court has defined the right as treating victims “justly and equitably.” United States v. Heaton, 458 F. Supp. 2d 1271, 1272 (D. Utah 2006). Fairness also encompasses basic notions of due process, which requires an opportunity to be notified and heard before a right is infringed upon. This means that courts, defense attorneys and prosecutors should give the rights of victims the same serious consideration as that traditionally given to the rights of defendants. Even the United States Supreme Court has commented on the meaning of fairness for victims; in 1934 Justice Cardozo noted “justice, though due to the accused, is due to the accuser also. The concept of fairness must not be strained till it is narrowed to a filament. We are to keep the balance true.” Snyder v. Massachusetts, 291 U.S. 97, 122 (1934).

The right to be treated with fairness challenges the traditional two-party paradigm of the criminal justice system, because it requires that the system consider the interests of another interested participant beyond the state and the defendant – the victim.


NCVLI is committed to challenging this paradigm and fighting for victims’ right to fairness.  Recently, we submitted an amicus brief to ensure that victims in California have the right to be treated fairly and meaningfully participate in the cases against their offenders.

To request legal technical assistance related to a victim’s right to fairness or another victims’ rights issue, click here.