NVAA 2000 Text

Chapter 5 Supplement Financial Assistance for

Victims of Crime

Section 1, Civil Remedies

The area of civil litigation on behalf of victims of crime continues to evolve at a rapid rate. A recent development is the establishment of the National Crime Victim Bar Association (NCVBA) by the National Center for Victims of Crime <http://www.victimbar.org>. In addition to the case law database mentioned below, a publication called Victim Advocate is published quarterly. Recent issues have presented articles on emerging areas in civil litigation on behalf of victims, including "Workplace Violence and Employer Liability" and "Stalking and Domestic Violence in the Workplace" (Winter 2000), "Civil Remedies for Victims of Elder Abuse" (Fall 1999), and "Sexual Harassment in the Schools" and other important issues regarding child victims of crime (Summer 1999). Victim advocates and service providers may wish to use these publications to educate themselves about emerging trends in this area of potential financial assistance to victims, or may find it useful to alert the attorneys with whom they work to the existence of the NCVBA and related litigation support materials.

The online database available through the NCVBA provides access to over 11,000 case summaries. Due to the tremendous level of activity in this area, the Civil Remedies chapter's strong recommendation that victims and advocates seeking civil legal assistance or information must locate competent, local counsel familiar with the courts within which any particular case is to be pursued must be reinforced. It should be reiterated that many state and local bar associations and trial lawyers associations have established committees dealing directly and indirectly with victims' issues. These include victims committees; committees focusing on the legal needs of children, women, and other special populations; and subsections of larger divisions, such as a state bar litigation section with a subsection that focuses on crime victim litigation. These are often important sources of experienced and jurisdiction-knowledgeable practitioners.

A highly significant decision regarding civil remedies for crime victims was rendered by our nation's highest court on May 15, 2000, in the case of U.S. v. Morrison, et al. (Sup. Ct., No. 99-5). The 5-4 ruling dismissed the case of Christy Brzonkala, a former Virginia Polytechnic Institute student, who was the first person to sue in federal court under the 1994 VAWA Act. Ms. Brzonkala, in alleging that she was raped by two university student-athletes, brought a civil suit against the alleged perpetrators pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 13981, which provides a federal civil remedy for the victims of gender-motivated violence.

The Court majority ruled that Congress, in enacting the civil remedies provision of the VAWA Act, had overstepped its authority to regulate interstate commerce and enforce the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution. The opinion of the Court held that Section 13981 cannot be sustained as a civil remedy for crime victims under either the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution (dealing with interstate commerce) or the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (providing for equal protection under the law). In so doing, the justices rejected the petitioner's argument that states are not doing enough to protect rape victims and that gender-based violence restricts women's choices in jobs and travel.

In the dissenting opinion for the Court minority, Justice David Souter cited "the mountain of data assembled by Congress, here showing the effects of violence against women on interstate commerce. . . . Violence against women may be found to affect interstate commerce and to affect it substantially" (<www.findlaw.com/casecode/supreme.html>, 2000). He also cited the thirty-eight states whose attorneys general had testified in support of the VAWA legislation and who had affirmatively stated their strong belief that the problem of violence against women was a national one, requiring federal attention, federal funds, and federal leadership (Ibid.).

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2000 NVAA Text
Chapter 5.1
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