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National Crime Victim Law Institute

How can I learn about some common victims’ rights?

April 15, 2010

Victims’ rights in the criminal justice system vary from state to state and between the states and the federal criminal justice systems. To know what your rights are:

  1. You should read the victims’ rights laws in the state or federal jurisdiction where the case against your offender is being investigated or prosecuted, or where the crime against you occurred. (For more information about what some of these laws are please see our Library of Victims’ Rights)
  2. To be a person with legal rights you must fit the legal definition of who is a “victim” under those laws. (For more information about legal definitions of victim see our Definition of “Victim” FAQ.
  3. Legal rights you obtained by meeting the definition of victim may only be enforceable at particular moments in the criminal proceedings. For example, the right to make a victim impact statement exists at the sentencing phase of the trial, so prior to sentencing you would not be able to make an impact statement even though you have this right and fit the definition of victim. There may be things you can do before sentencing, however, to best protect this right.

A victim advocate or victim attorney can usually help you work through these questions and help you understand your rights.

While the rights of crime victims vary from place to place there are rights that are common to most jurisdictions. Those rights are:

  • The right to reasonable protection from the accused and those acting on behalf of the accused.
  • The right to reasonable, accurate and timely notice of public court proceedings.
  • The right to be present at public court proceedings that defendant has the right to attend.
  • The right to be heard at any public proceeding, usually including proceedings involving release, pleas, sentencing or parole.
  • The right to confer with the prosecution.
  • The right to full and timely restitution. (Restitution is payment of monies from the offender to the victim to compensate for losses incurred from the crime).
  • The right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay. (This right is often also phrased as the right to a speedy disposition).
  • The right to be treated with fairness and with dignity and respect for one’s privacy.
  • The right to a copy of the presentence report or transcripts.
  • The right to information about the criminal justice process and your rights, and the right to referrals.
  • The right to apply for victim compensation. (Victim compensation is money paid from the government to a victim, usually to cover certain out of pocket costs incurred as a result of the crime. For more information on compensation contact the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards
  • The right to standing (which is the right to independently stand up in court and assert your rights) and remedies (which is the ability to have redress when your rights are not afforded).