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National Crime Victim Law Institute

Laying the Foundation for the Future

November 07, 2012

  • Crime Victim Litigation Clinic Fall 2012

In a criminal case against CITGO Petroleum regarding violations of the Clean Air Act, the neighbors of the refinery, who suffered enormous harms, sought recognition as “victims” under the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA).  Victim status is the first step to gaining access to rights such as the rights to be heard at sentencing and to full and timely restitution!  The trial court, however, initially denied the neighbors’ motion on the basis that it was untimely.  With the help of NCVLI’s partners - Professor Paul Cassell of the S. J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah and Paula Pierce of the Texas Legal Services Center - the victims sought appellate review, arguing that under the CVRA they were legal victims and that the trial court should have heard their arguments.  The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the trial court and ordered it to hear the victims’ arguments.  The trial court subsequently granted the motion for victim status and concluded that the neighbors are legal victims.

Although a significant victory for victims’ rights, the Fifth Circuit did not designate its opinion for publication.  In the practice of law, this meant that the court’s opinion could not be cited by other victims in future cases.  It meant that the decision would not be precedent that could help others. To ensure this case can be cited and that future victims benefit from it, NCVLI and the victims’ attorney moved to publish the opinion. We are awaiting the decision.

Sometimes the steps seem small, but step by step we are changing the justice system.

This is among the cases our Crime Victim Litigation Clinic students worked on this fall.  We are grateful for their assistance!