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Chapter 3 Specific Justice Systems and Victims' Rights

Section 2, Federal Justice


Since the passage of the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982, there has been considerable emphasis placed on the implementation of victims' rights and provision of quality victim services at the federal level. The 1995 Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance, as well as the passage of six major federal laws affecting victims, define the scope of victims' rights and services for victims of federal crimes. Efforts at the federal level to coordinate the delivery of services to victims have produced collaborative initiatives that improve victims' rights and services.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this section, students will understand the following concepts:

  • Major laws affecting federal victims of crime.

  • The 1995 Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance.

  • The Office for Victims of Crime response to coordinate services and assistance to federal crime victims.

  • The availability and coordination of victims' rights and services at the federal level.

  • Significant federal initiatives that have strengthened victims' rights and services at the federal level.

Statistical Overview

  • During 1998, U.S. Attorneys initiated investigations involving 115,692 suspects for possible violations of federal law. Almost a third (32%) of those investigated were suspected of a drug violation (BJS September 1999).

  • Between 1994 and 1998, investigations initiated by U.S. Attorneys have increased by 16.5%--from 99,251 to 115,692. Investigations for immigration violations increased from 5,526 to 14,114; investigations for drug offenses increased from 29,311 to 36,355 (Ibid.).

  • Criminal charges were filed against 78,172 defendants in U.S. district courts during 1998--a 25% increase since 1994 (Ibid.).

  • In 1998, 89.9% of defendants charged with felonies were convicted in cases terminating in U.S. district courts. This conviction rate was about the same for all major offense categories: 90.1% of violent offenses, 89.8% of property offenses, 89.1% of drug offenses, and 91.3% of public-order offenses (Ibid.).

  • Of the 50,494 offenders convicted of felonies and sentenced in U.S. district courts during 1998, a total of 40,879 were sentenced to prison. Another 7,208 were sentenced to probation only (Ibid.).

  • During 1998, 92,813 offenders were under federal community supervision. Supervised release has become the primary form of supervision in the federal system: 59.1% of offenders were on supervised release compared to 34.7% on probation, and 6.3% remaining on parole (Ibid.).

  • On September 30, 1998, 107,912 offenders were serving prison sentences in federal prison; 58% were incarcerated for a drug offense; 11% for a violent offense; 8% for a weapons offense; 8% for a property offense; 7% for an immigration offense; and 8% for all other offenses (Ibid.).


Federal and nonfederal courts co-exist in separate, yet highly related judicial systems. The United States is a Federal Republic of generally autonomous states. Article X of the Constitution specifies that "[T]he powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Thus, the powers not expressly given to the United States government are retained by the states and the people. In the criminal justice system, there is federal criminal jurisdiction for all crimes set forth in the U.S. Criminal Code including:

  • Crimes occurring on federal land, e.g., Indian Reservations or National Parks.

  • Crimes including an interstate component, e.g., kidnapping, postal service, telephone lines, or Internet.

  • Crimes involving a specific connection to the federal government, e.g., counterfeiting, robbery of a federally insured bank, embezzlement of federal funds, or aviation matter (FAA).

Federal crimes are prosecuted in one of the ninety-four United States Attorneys' Offices throughout the United States, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Each United States Attorney's Office has a victim-witness coordinator who can provide information to victims of federal crime or serve as a resource regarding the federal criminal justice system.

Major Federal Laws Affecting Federal Crime Victims

Six significant laws affecting federal victims of crime have been enacted in the past two decades:

  • The Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982.

  • The Victims of Crime Act of 1984.

  • The Crime Control Act of 1990.

  • The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

  • The Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996.

  • The Victims' Rights Clarification Act of 1997.


The Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982 (VWPA) was enacted "to enhance and protect the necessary role of crime victims and witnesses in the criminal justice process; to ensure that the federal government does all that is possible within the limits of available resources to assist victims and witnesses of crime without infringing on the constitutional rights of the defendants; and to provide a model for legislation for state and local governments" (AG Guidelines 1983).

The VWPA was considered landmark legislation in 1982 because, for the first time, rights for victims of federal crimes were established, including:

  • The fair treatment of victims and witnesses in the federal criminal justice system.

  • The right to include victim impact statements in presentence investigation reports.

  • New criminal penalties to protect victims and witnesses from intimidation, harassment, and retaliation, including provisions for civil restraining orders.

  • Restitution for victims.

  • Consideration of victims' interests in bail decisions.

Procedures for responding to the needs of crime victims in the federal criminal justice system, including referral services, information and notification services, consultation services, restitution, and victim impact statements were further delineated in Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance issued by the Attorney General in 1984.


Two years following the passage of the VWPA, Congress enacted the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA) to provide funding for victim assistance, victim compensation, and training and technical assistance for victim service providers across the nation. VOCA's innovative funding mechanism relies on fines, penalties, and bond forfeitures from convicted federal offenders--not taxpayers--to generate an annual Crime Victims Fund. Congress directed the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) to distribute thefunding to states and U.S. Territories to assist in expanding compensation and assistance to crime victims nationwide.

While the majority of VOCA funding is distributed to states and territories through formula grants, a small portion of the fund is available for federal crime victims, as well as for training and technical assistance in the federal arena and at the national level.

OVC has utilized this funding for significant federal crime victim assistance including:

  • The creation of the Federal Crime Victim Assistance Fund.

  • Assistance to Native American crime victims.

  • Training and technical assistance for all areas of the federal system, including military victim assistance training and U.S. Attorney Victim-Witness Coordinator training.

One very important provision in VOCA is the requirement that in order for state compensation programs to receive federal Crime Victims Fund awards, victims of federal crimes must be eligible for state compensation benefits. Following the enactment of VOCA, many state legislatures amended their state laws to include federal crime victims as eligible claimants. Today, victims of federal crimes in all states are eligible to file compensation claims to the state compensation program where the crime occurred.


The Crime Control Act of 1990 contained a wealth of new legislation and amendments to the existing federal criminal code affecting the treatment of crime victims, including children.

  • Title V, the Victims' Rights and Restitution Act of 1990, in effect, created a Federal Crime Victims' Bill of Rights and codified services that should be available to victims.

  • Title II, the Victims of Child Abuse Act of 1990, contained extensive amendments to the federal rules of criminal procedure affecting the treatment of child victims and witnesses in the federal system, e.g. allowing the use ofclosed-circuit television and videotaped depositions of children.

  • Title XXXI, Bankruptcy and Restitution, protected victims by preventing drunk driving offenders from discharging debts arising from offenses under Chapter 13 of the bankruptcy code.

Provisions of the Crime Control Act created a new framework for comprehensive victim assistance on the federal level by specifying new, or clarifying previous, responsibilities of federal officials with respect to implementing victims' rights. Federal officials covered under the Crime Control Act include officials of the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal agencies engaged in the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime.

Federal Crime Victims' Bill of Rights. The enactment of a Federal Crime Victims' Bill of Rights was historic and paralleled legislative activity in the states. Section 502 of the Act mandated that federal officials . . .

    shall make their best efforts to see that victims of crime are accorded the rights described in subsection (b) . . .

    1. The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim's dignity and privacy.

    2. The right to be reasonably protected from the accused offender.

    3. The right to be notified of court proceedings.

    4. The right to be present at all court proceedings related to the offense, unless the court determines that testimony by the victim would be materially affected if the victim heard other testimony at trial.

    5. The right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case.

    6. The right to restitution.

    7. The right to information about the conviction, sentencing, imprisonment, and release of the offender (42 U.S.C. Section 10606(b)).

The Attorney General revised the 1983 Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance and re-issued them to "provide definitive guidance on implementation of the 1990 Act as well as continued guidance on the protection of witnesses under the VWPA" (AG Guidelines 1991). In addition, many of the approximately seventy-five federal lawenforcement agencies that operate within federal agencies (e.g. Inspectors General, Postal Inspectors, Bureau of Indian Affairs Law Enforcement, etc.) took steps to issue guidelines for the treatment of victims and witnesses.

Critical changes. While many outstanding Victim-Witness Programs had been created in United States Attorneys' Offices across the country by 1990, and some federal agencies had responded to implement the Victim and Witness Protection Act (e.g., the Federal Bureau of Prisons' victim notification and restitution programs), the fact that Congress created strong new language "demonstrates the continuing national concern for the innocent victims of all crimes and reflects the view that the needs and interests of victims and witnesses had not received appropriate consideration in the federal criminal justice system under the Victim and Witness Protection Act" (AG Guidelines 1991).

The 1983 AG Guidelines, stemming from the passage of the VWPA, required that services to victims and witnesses be provided "whenever possible" and "within limits of available resources." With the passage of the Crime Control Act in 1990, victims' rights and services on the federal level gained new status and it was clearly stated in law, and in the revised 1991 AG Guidelines, that victims' rights and services "shall be provided."


Four years later, Congress enacted comprehensive crime legislation entitled the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (Crime Act). In addition to the establishment of new victims' rights, and the passage of the historic Violence Against Women Act contained within, the Crime Act encouraged the federal government to form partnerships with state and local communities. The specific rights and services contained in the 1994 Crime Act include:

  • Notice and payment for testing and counseling for sexually transmitted diseases for sexual assault victims.

  • The right of a domestic violence victim to be heard at a pre-release hearing of the defendant.

  • Allocution at sentencing for victims of crimes of violence and sexual abuse.

  • Mandatory restitution for the following victims:

    • Domestic violence.

    • Sexual assault.

    • Sexually-exploited and other abused children.

    • Telemarketing fraud victims.


The Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996 amends the federal criminal code to require judges to order mandatory restitution for victims of violent crime, certain property offenses, fraud, and consumer product tampering.

Restitution may now be granted to victims that are not victims of the specific offense resulting in conviction provided that the parties agree to that in the plea agreement. In addition, procedures for issuing and enforcing restitution orders were significantly expanded under the Act. Full implementation of these new provisions will bring new importance to restitution in federal criminal proceedings.


This Act expands the rights of victims to attend and observe trial, stating that victims shall not be excluded from the trial of the defendant because the victim may, during the sentencing hearing, make a statement or present any information in relation to the sentence. This right is further expanded in Capital cases to deny exclusion in cases where the victim may, during the sentencing hearing, testify as to the effect of the offense on the victim and the victim's family.


The reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act of 2000 (VAWA 2000) extended the funding of key VAWA programs set to expire at the end of the fiscal year 2000. On October 28, 2000 President Clinton signed into law VAWA 2000 as Division B of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (Public Law No: 106-386). The newlegislation seeks primarily to improve current methods of addressing violence against women and expand existing programs. It seeks to build on the success of the first act rather than introduce new and sweeping reforms (Heger 2001). VAWA 2000 substantially increases support for sexual violence programs and coalitions. Among new programs tailored to assist underserved populations and new areas of concern are the inclusion of dating violence in several VAWA programs, greater protection for battered immigrant women, programs addressing violence against older and disabled individuals, and pilot programs for transitional housing and supervised visitation centers (NCVC 2001).


The Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act of 2000 improves access for battered immigrants to a variety of legal protections provided by VAWA, and sets out procedures for spouses and children to self-petition under VAWA:

  • It offers greater protection to spouses of citizens or residents who practice bigamy by clearly defining their status and providing them with the right to self-petition under VAWA provisions.

  • It provides access to VAWA self-petitions to battered immigrants living abroad who are abused by their permanent resident or citizen spouses or parents if they are government employees or members of the U.S. uniformed services.

  • It allows battered immigrants to file VAWA self-petitions within two years of divorce or death of the abuser. If immigration status of the abuser is lost due to incidents of domestic violence the battered immigrant may self-petition.

  • It offers clarifications regarding the possibility of naturalization or citizenship of battered immigrant women and protection from deportation when the battered immigrant has left the home of the abuser after being subject to battery or extreme cruelty.

  • It clarifies the use of VAWA funds to provide legal and social services to battered immigrant women.

  • It creates a non-immigrant visa for immigrant crime victims who have suffered substantial physical or emotional injury as a result of being subjected to crimes such as rape, torture, trafficking, incest, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, or kidnap (NOW Legal Defense Fund Oct 2000).

The 1995 Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance

As a result of the passage of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the Attorney General revised and re-issued new comprehensive guidelines to establish procedures for the federal criminal justice system for implementing victim rights and assistance as enacted under federal law. In issuing the 1995 Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance, Attorney General Janet Reno stated:

    Crime is a shattering experience that affects the lives of millions of Americans. It can destroy a person's sense of safety and security. Of paramount importance to crime victims and witnesses is their treatment by criminal justice personnel, who should care about their suffering, enforce their rights and protections, offer support to help them heal, and hold the criminal accountable for the harm caused . . .

    The Guidelines reflect my strong belief that victims should play a central role in the criminal justice system and my commitment that all components of the United States Department of Justice shall respond to them with compassion, fairness, and respect, in accordance with the letter and spirit of the law (AG Guidelines 1995, Foreword).

In combining the requirements of the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982, the Crime Control Act of 1990, and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the AG Guidelines provide "definitive guidance on implementation of the 1990 and 1994 Acts as well as continued guidance on the protection of witnesses under the VWPA; and shall serve as a primary resource for Department of Justice (investigative, prosecutorial, and correctional) agencies in the treatment and protection of victims and witnesses of federal crimes under these Acts."



As in the 1991 AG Guidelines, the 1995 AG Guidelines state that under 42 U.S.C. Section 10606(a), officers and employees of the Department of Justice and other departments and agencies of the United States engaged in the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime shall make their best efforts to see that victims of crime are accorded the rights described under federal law. However, the new AG Guidelines increased the accountability of federal criminal justice officials. In the 1991 AG Guidelines, the Attorney General recommended that the annual performance appraisals of federal law enforcement officers, investigators, prosecutors, and corrections officers include compliance with the AG Guidelines. The 1995 AG Guidelines direct that performance appraisals and reports of best efforts include information on compliance with the AG Guidelines.

The AG Guidelines provide explicit designations of the individuals responsible for "identifying the victims and performing the services due victims and witnesses under federal law" and require that in each of the investigating field offices, correctional facilities, U.S. Attorney's office, and the Justice Department Litigation Division, "there must be one individual who shall be designated to specifically carry out victim-witness services." The sharing of information and cooperation among the various federal agencies, as well as interacting with tribal, state, and local agencies providing victim services, are also required by the AG Guidelines.


The AG Guidelines delineate a range of services that should be provided to victims and witnesses at each stage of the federal criminal justice process. Moreover, to further insure implementation, specific responsibility is assigned to federal agencies and officials to carry out these services. The services listed in the AG Guidelines include the following:

  • Information and referral.

  • Protection from intimidation and harassment.

  • Consultation and notice.

  • Secure waiting areas.

  • Return of property held as evidence.

  • Payment of forensic rape exam.

  • Custodial release eligibility information.

  • Notice and payment for testing and counseling for sexually transmitted diseases.

  • Allocution and victim impact statements to the court.

  • Restitution.

In addition, the AG Guidelines address other forms of assistance that shall be extended to all victims and witnesses to the fullest extent feasible, including victim privacy for child victims and victims of sexual assault, employer creditor intervention, parking, translator services, and related services.


A highly significant development in the federal criminal justice system pertaining to victims and witnesses of federal crime is the newly released revisions to the Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance. In October 1996, the Attorney General created the Deputy Attorney General's (DAG) Victims' Rights Working Group, and assigned to it the task of revising the 1995 version of the AG Guidelines. Major goals of the revision were to: (1) update the document with new federal laws pertaining to victims; (2) provide more explicit guidance to the field on "difficult issues" that had never been fully resolved by the Department of Justice; and (3) change the format of the document to make it easier to use.

In accordance with these goals and objectives, the 2000 AG Guidelines incorporate a number of changes in both substance and format. These changes have made the AG Guidelines easier to use and more comprehensible. With respect to format, separate sections were created specifically for the use of the investigative, prosecutive, and correctional personnel to which they applied. Statutory and rule citations were attached to the corresponding guidelines so that the user could refer directly to their text. Finally, a commentary section was added at certain points throughout the document in order to provide additional clarification, guidance, and practical suggestions on how to implement the law and policy that the document contained.

With respect to the substance of victims' rights and services, the revised 2000 AG Guidelines provide the following clarification and guidance:

  • Clarification regarding the mandatory nature of the Guidelines. Traditionally, the AG Guidelines incorporated the "best efforts" standard contained in 42 U.S.C. §10606 regarding the provision of services. Thus, Department of Justice (DOJ) employees were instructed to use their "best efforts" to provide victims with the services listed in the statute. A closer examination suggested, however, that the provision of victims' rights statutory services was instead mandatory in nature. At the request of the OVC Director, DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) prepared and issued an Opinion that the victim service requirements of 42 U.S.C. §10607 are indeed mandatory.

  • Clarification regarding employee discretion. OLC's legal opinion recognized that although 42 U.S.C. §10607 as modified mandated DOJ personnel to provide victims with the described services, it also appeared to allow for individual judgment in determining "how, when and in some cases, whether to provide the services." Accordingly, a new section was added to the 2000 AG Guidelines concerning "Reliance on the Sound Judgment of DOJ Officers and Employees." This section provides that employees must use their discretion in deciding how best to accord rights and services required under federal law.

  • Clarification regarding the definition of "victim." In order to address the many issues that have arisen from the field concerning who qualifies as a victim for the purposes of statutory and guidelines rights and services, a lengthy commentary section was included after the statutory definition (42 U.S.C. §10607 (e)(2)). Several major areas of concern are addressed by the commentary, including:

    • The "innocent victim" issue. OLC suggested, and all DOJ components participating on the DAG's Victims' Rights Working Group revisions agreed, that Departmental policy should exclude persons who are culpable for the crime being investigated or prosecuted from being considered victims. The policy does not exclude from victim status, however, persons who may be culpable for some other offense or crime. This example cites persons who may be illegal aliens who are victims of involuntary servitude, victims of witness intimidation, incarcerated persons who are victimized in prison, and persons who may be victims of the excessive use of force by law enforcement officers.

    • "Direct" versus "indirect" victims. The commentary section also addresses the distinction between direct and indirect victims. Specifically, it states that only those persons suffering direct physical, emotional, or pecuniary harm are considered victims for purposes of AG Guidelines rights and services. DOJ personnel are not prohibited in their discretion, however, from assisting indirect victims to the extent deemed appropriate.

    • Victims of juvenile offenders. The 2000 commentary section discusses at length legal distinctions concerning proceedings involving juvenile offenders, and limits on information that may be provided to or solicited from victims of juvenile offenders by investigators and prosecutors. One significant exception is cited that allows the corrections agency to respond to a victim's inquiry about the final judicial disposition and projected release date as computed on the date when the juvenile sentence is imposed.
  • Clarification regarding consultation with a government attorney. A new provision in the 2000 AG Guidelines gives specific guidance on consultation between victims and government attorneys, and sets a standard of "reasonableness." The provision states that, in general, federal prosecutors should use their "best efforts" to consult with victims about major case events, and cites Congress' specific suggestion that victims' views be obtained about case disposition matters such as dismissals, release of the accused pending judicial proceedings, plea negotiations, and pretrial diversion. Specific instruction is then provided concerning consultation about plea bargains, indicating that "reasonable efforts" should be made to notify identified victims of, and consider their views about, any proposed or contemplated plea negotiations. In order to determine what is "reasonable," the official isinstructed to "consider factors relevant to the wisdom and practicality of giving notice and considering views in the context of the particular case . . ." These factors may include the impact on public safety and risks to personal safety, number of victims, the need for confidentiality, and certain other considerations.

  • Guidance for helping to protect victim privacy. The guideline pertaining to victim privacy cautions staff of the prosecutor's office not to needlessly or carelessly reveal private victim information to any person. Further, in order to ensure that the language used in the AG Guidelines pertaining to victim privacy is consistent with the DOJ's public position on discovery of witnesses' names and addresses, language contained in the 2000 edition was revised to provide that the names and addresses of victims and witnesses should be disclosed to the defense only pursuant to proper discovery procedures under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16, any local rules or customs, any court orders, or special prosecutorial need.

  • Guidance for providing rights and services in cases with large numbers of victims. Implementing AG Guidelines provisions presents serious challenges as the number of identified victims in a single case grows into the hundreds and thousands. A new guideline has been added that encourages DOJ employees to attempt to have "personal and individual contact" with victims. In so doing, responsible officials are instructed to "use the means, given the circumstances, most likely to achieve actual contact with and notice to victims." DOJ personnel are cautioned to "carefully evaluate the type of information relayed and the method of communicating the information" in order to ensure that neither the investigation nor the victims' privacy are compromised. A variety of methods for achieving this end are suggested in the commentary to the section.

  • Guidance regarding post-sentencing notification responsibilities. Victims' rights statutes require DOJ employees to notify victims of a variety of case events. Traditionally, this has been interpreted to apply only to trial court proceedings and has not been considered to cover appellate and other post-sentencing matters. A newly-added guideline instructs employees to make "reasonable efforts" to notify identified victims about post-sentencing filings and court proceedings, including appeals and other post-conviction relief proceedings. As with the provision pertaining to consultation, certain factors are cited that help determine what is "reasonable," including the impact on public safety and personal safety, the nature of the relief sought, the number of victims, and certain other considerations.

  • Establishment of mandatory training requirement. In order to ensure the highest level of compliance with mandated rights and services, the revised AG Guidelines make it mandatory for DOJ agencies to distribute the AG Guidelines to employees and provide at least one hour of training on the victims' rights laws and AG Guidelines within sixty days of an employee taking over responsibilities that will bring him or her into contact with victims of federal crime. Additional training on new laws is required as needed.

  • Addition of new laws. Finally, the revised AG Guidelines incorporates new laws passed since 1995. Of particular significance are two new provisions that came out of the Oklahoma City bombing case. First, a provision allows for closed circuit televising of the trial to victims if the court orders a change of venue of more than 350 miles from the courtwhere the case would normally be tried. A second provision gives victims who are not trial witnesses, but who may testify during the sentencing phase, the right to attend the trial.

In the foreword to the 2000 Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance, Attorney General Janet Reno states that "The Guidelines reflect my strong belief that victims should play a central role in the criminal justice system and my commitment that all components of the United States Department of Justice respond to crime victims with compassion, fairness, and respect, in accordance with the letter and spirit of the law."

Coordination and Direct Services at the Federal Level

One significant result of the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982 was the creation of the position of Victim-Witness Coordinator in United States Attorneys' Offices to ensure compliance with the VWPA as well as with federal crime victim-related laws enacted since 1982. Today, every office of the United States Attorney across the country is authorized to employ a Victim-Witness Coordinator. Over the past ten years numerous federal law enforcement agencies have established their own programs to assist federal crime victims. Among the new initiatives, the FBI created a unit for victim-witness assistance, staffed the unit with a Unit Chief and six supporting positions, and assigned Victim-Witness Coordinators in each of the fifty-six FBI field offices nationwide. The Department of Treasury has recently set about to further develop programs for each of its enforcement bureaus including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Secret Service, Customs Service, and Internal Revenue Service. The Federal Bureau of Prison has developed a program designed to notify victims and witnesses of the release of convicted federal offenders. Victim-witness programs are also being developed at the Department of State and Drug Enforcement Administration.


Over seventy federal law enforcement agencies have first line responsibilities to victims of crime. Federal officers and agents are often the first to contact victims following a crime. Many enforcement agencies now require that their officers and agents provide victims with an information brochure highlighting their rights and outlining available services. Information about programs such as crime compensation and what to do if threatened or harassed is included. In addition, victim-witness coordinators assigned to each local office are responsible for follow-up assistance and referral.

Officers, Case Agents and Victim-Witness Coordinators provide victims with important case status information, advise of case closings, arrests and referral to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The following is a partial listing of federal law enforcement agencies that investigate crimes that are prosecuted in the federal court system:

  • Immigration and Naturalization.

  • Federal Bureau of Prisons.

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation.

  • U.S. Customs Service.

  • Internal Revenue Service.

  • U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

  • U.S. Secret Service.

  • Drug Enforcement Administration.

  • Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

  • U.S. Marshals Service.

  • National Park Service.

  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms.

  • U.S. Capitol Police.

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

  • General Services Administration/Federal Protective Service.

  • U.S. Forest Service.


One of the important roles of the Victim-Witness Coordinator with each US Attorney's Office is to implement federal laws regarding crime victims rights' and services. The position can be structured in many different ways, depending on the size and configuration of the federal district and the needs of the United States Attorney. As the title implies, Victim-Witness Coordinators generally oversee and coordinate the victim assistance program and services in the United States Attorneys' Offices and work to establish procedures for victim and witness assistance across the entire office. Coordinators work with federal prosecutors and administrative staff to implement a wide range of victims' rights and services, including:

  • Consultation with victims prior to plea negotiations.

  • Courtroom orientation.

  • Court escort.

  • Collection of victim impact and restitution information.

  • The processing of witness fees forms.

  • Notifying victims/witnesses of continuances and delays.

  • Referrals to state and local victim assistance and compensation programs.

  • Coordination of travel and lodging for victims/witnesses.

An important aspect of the Victim-Witness Coordinator's job is to coordinate victim and witness service efforts with other federal as well as state and local law enforcement officials. Many cases cross jurisdictional lines and require out-of-state resources to assist victims and to effectively prosecute the case. In addition, the networking activities of the Coordinators are helpful in providing services and support to victims who reside in rural-remote locations. In most jurisdictions, Coordinators work closely with state-level and local victim service providers and criminal justice officials, which serves to "fill gaps" in the delivery of services. Activities include cross-jurisdictional training, participating in statewide victim assistance coalitions, making victims service referrals, and participating in commemorative observances such as National Crime Victims' Rights Week and National Drunk and Drugged Driving Awareness Week.

The U.S. Attorney Victim-Witness Coordinator will play an even greater role in coordination in the future. As more agency law enforcement victim-witness coordinators are assigned, an increase in the development and expansion of the Victim-Witness Subcommittees of District's Law Enforcement Coordinating Committees (LECC) can be expected. The LECC brings together representatives from the federal, state, and local criminal justice system for planning, improving communication and coordination, and improving the overall response to crime.


In a landmark report sponsored by the Office for Victims of Crime entitled Victim Impact Statements: A Victim's Right to Speak, A Nation's Responsibility to Listen, the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) in 1994 addressed victim impact in the federal system. The report stated the following:

    Selection of an appropriate sentence is one of the most important decisions made in the criminal justice system. The primary vehicle used to assist the sentencing court in fulfilling this responsibility is the Presentence Investigation Report (PSI). In November 1987, the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 became effective and radically changed the philosophical model for sentencing offenders in federal courts. Congress relinquished an indeterminate model of sentencing and adopted a determinate model based upon national guidelines. Changes in the content and format of the presentence report were necessary to accommodate the new sentencing process.

    As part of the Crime Control Act of 1984, Congress created the U.S. Sentencing Commission to serve as an independent body of the judicial branch. The Commission was assigned responsibility for establishing sentencing policies and practices for the Federal criminal justice system in compliance with the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. The Commission was further directed to produce guidelines that would avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities while retaining enough flexibility to permit individualized sentencingwhen called for by mitigating or aggravating circumstances. Sentencing Guidelines provide for upward departure of sentence based on intimidation or harassment against a victim or witness, vulnerability of the victim, physical restraint of a victim and extreme psychological injury. Most recently additional upward departures have been provided for hate crime motivation and terrorism. If the court is to accurately determine mitigating or aggravating circumstances of each individual case, it must have access to all information pertinent to the case, and this information must include a careful review of victim impact.

The federal criminal justice system took the lead in setting a legal precedent for the inclusion of victim impact information in sentencing with the passage of the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982. The Act allows for the submission of victim impact information at the time of sentencing, amending the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (Rule 32(c)(1)) to require U.S. Probation officials to include the following victim impact information in their pre-sentence investigative reports to the court:

  • Any harm--including financial, social, psychological and physical--done to or loss suffered by, any victim of the offense.

  • Any other information that may aid the court in sentencing, including the restitution needs of any victim of the offense.

This created the right for federal victims to provide information on the impact of the crime in the sentencing phase of the federal justice system--commonly referred to as victim impact statements. The 1995 Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance address this right further by requiring the following:

  • Federal prosecutors apprise victims that the U.S. Probation Officer is required to prepare a victim impact statement, which includes information relevant to restitution and how to communicate directly with the Probation Officer.

  • Federal prosecutors shall also advise of or make available to the appropriate U.S. Probation Officer the information in the Federal Prosecutor's possession pertinent to the preparation of the victim impact statement so that the report will fully reflect the effects of the crime upon the victims as well as the appropriateness and amount of restitution.

  • With respect to an oral impact statement, federal prosecutors shall also advise victims of violence or sexual abuse, or a designated victim representative, of their rights to address the court at sentencing and of the date, time, and place of the scheduled hearing.

Finally, consistent with available resources and their other responsibilities, federal prosecutors shall advocate the interests of victims, including child victims, at the time of sentencing.

Today, victim impact statements are widely used in criminal cases, including capital cases. Repeated challenges to the constitutionality of the use of victim impact statements in capital cases was resolved when the U.S. Supreme Court in Payne v. Tennessee (U.S. 1991) upheld the constitutionality of victim impact statement evidence submitted during the sentencing phase in capital cases.


The Victims' Rights and Restitution Act of 1990 (part of the Crime Control Act) provides that victims of federal crime have a "right to restitution." It also requires that if a court does not order restitution, or orders only partial restitution, the court must state on the record the reasons why restitution was either not or only partially ordered. The 1990 Act also extended the court's ability to order restitution to victims of an offense involving a scheme, conspiracy, or pattern of criminal activity, i.e., all victims harmed by crimes of fraud. This extends not only to the victims of charged crimes, but to all the victims named in the indictment, even when the defendant was not charged on all counts.

In addition, the 1990 Act extended the right to restitution to all victims in plea agreements:

    The court may also order restitution in any criminal case to the extent agreed to by the parties in a plea agreement.

The AG Guidelines underscore this right by stating that when plea negotiations occur, prosecutors should attempt to obtain the defendant's consent to an order of restitution for all victims of the offense, not just for the victims involved in the courts to which he or she pleaded guilty.

Departing from the previous trend to permit the court to have discretion in ordering restitution, the 1994 Crime Act states very clearly that convictions for four types of crimes must include mandatory restitution as part of an offender's punishment:

  • Sex crimes.

  • Sexual exploitation and other abuses of children.

  • Telemarketing fraud.

  • Domestic violence.

The Act also lists expenses for which victim restitution is required:

  • Lost income.

  • Necessary child care.

  • Transportation.

  • Other expenses related to participation in the investigation or prosecution of the offense.

  • Attendance at proceedings related to the offense.

In addition, the 1994 Crime Act extended and strengthened the right to restitution for other federal crime victims by adding requirements for reimbursement of victims as well for the enforcement of restitution orders against delinquent defendants.

In 1996, the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act further expanded the scope of mandatory restitution to victims of violent crime, victims of certain property offenses, and victims of consumer product tampering.

Enforcement of restitution. To ensure enforcement of restitution orders, the Crime Act and 1995 AG Guidelines specify that U.S. Attorneys must enforce the restitution order "by all available means."

The Crime Act provided several mechanisms to enforce restitution payments including the following:

  • To reinforce the payment of restitution, the Crime Act requires that all benefits provided to the defendant by a federal agency must be immediately suspended until the defendant makes a "good faith" effort to pay restitution.

  • The order may also be enforced by the victim in the same manner as a civil judgment.

  • Compliance with a restitution order was established as a condition of probation or supervised release. The AG Guidelines specify that compliance with restitution orders shall be followed. If an offender fails to comply, the court, upon a hearing, may revoke the probation or term of supervised release, modify the terms and conditions of probation or release, or hold the offender in contempt.

Finally, the Crime Act reinforced restitution payments by amending the federal Bankruptcy Code to prevent defendants who owe restitution from discharging their liability for payments by filing bankruptcy. The Act states that a debt for restitution included as a sentence, on the debtor's conviction of a crime, would not be discharged in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing. The Act also added a new provision in the Bankruptcy Code that addresses drunk driving debts, stating that such debts are not dischargeable under Chapter 7, 11, and 12 proceedings.


In 1998, the Bureau of Prisons listed as one of their national goals and objectives to include victim-witness policies. Their objective was to develop and implement policies and programs designed to support and protect all rights and interests of crime victims-witnesses in the community and among correctional staff and their families and to provide information to victims and witnesses regarding the Bureau's programs and policies (Federal Bureau of Prisons 1998).

The mission of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is to "protect society by confining offenders in the controlled environment of prisons and community-based facilities that are safe, humane, and appropriately secure, and that provide work and other self-improvement opportunities to assist offenders in becoming law-abiding citizens" (Bureau of Prisons n.d.). Since 1984, the Bureau of Prisons has conducted the Victim/Witness Notification Program which provides procedures for responding to a request from a victim or witness who wishes to be notified regarding a specific inmate's release or release-related activities. Release-related activities about which a victim or witness can request and receive notification include the following:

Release. This would include the date of release, city and state of destination, and if applicable, the supervising U.S. Probation Office.

Escape. The victim or witness would be notified by telephone as soon as possible after the escape. Once the offender is apprehended, the victim or witness will be informed of the apprehension and the location of the offender.

Furlough. This notification includes any approval for an offender's unescorted trip to the community, including beginning and end dates, and destination.

Transfer to community corrections center. This information will include the name and location of the facility, the date of transfer, and the tentative date the inmate is scheduled for release from the center.

Parole hearings. Victims and witnesses are notified of hearings and may appear in person or provide a written statement to the U.S. Parole Commission.

Death. The victim or witness will be notified of the date of death, should such occur during the period of incarceration.

Currently, the Bureau of Prisons monitors 4,289 inmates in the Victim/Witness Notification Program, with more than 13,500 identified victims and witnesses. BOP has also developed a program of victim impact classes for offenders as well as the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program.

Office for Victims of Crime Response to Federal Crime Victims

The Federal Crime Victims Division was established by the Office for Victims of Crime to assist federal personnel in establishing and maintaining their programs for federal crime victims. This Division has responsibility for the following:

  • Providing and improving services for federal crime victims.

  • Monitoring compliance with the guidelines on "fair treatment of crime victims and witnesses" contained in the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982, the Crime Control Act of 1990, and the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act of 1994.

  • Providing training and technical assistance to federal criminal justice personnel and Native American organizations on victim assistance issues.

  • Implementing the Children's Justice Act Program for Native Americans.


In 1993, OVC established the Federal Crime Victim Assistance Fund (FCVA) to assist federal victims in need of immediate assistance that is unavailable through any other source. Sincethat time, OVC has set aside funds each year to aid victims of federal crime. These funds, administered by the Federal Crime Victims Division, are made available to U.S. Attorneys' Offices, FBI, Department of State, and DEA through Interagency Agreements. These funds have been used to provide crisis counseling, pay temporary shelter costs, cover travel for victims' participation in criminal justice proceedings, defray emergency medical treatment expenses, and hire interpreters for nonsubpoenaed victims.


The Federal Crime Victims Division provides federal criminal justice personnel with numerous training opportunities on effective intervention with federal crime victims. The training includes programs on handling cases and the development of victim-witness policies and procedures for federal criminal prosecutors, investigators, and Victim-Witness Coordinators. The Federal Crime Victims Division, in cooperation with the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, FBI, Department of Defense, DEA, and other federal agencies, provides victim-witness training to over seventy different federal law enforcement agencies nationwide.


Victim Assistance in Indian Country Discretionary Grant Program. In 1996, OVC modified the Victim Assistance in Indian Country (VAIC) discretionary grant program to recognize tribal sovereignty and the government-to-government relationship between the federal government and Indian tribes. This change allows for directly funding tribes, instead of the past practice of funding states, which then made awards to tribes for establishing "on-reservation" victim assistance programs. During the transition to this new process, OVC provided direct funding in FY 1997 to all tribal programs at the FY 1996 levels. In FY 1998, six new programs were awarded grants through the competitive program. In FY 1999, OVC announced that all VAIC grants will be competitively awarded.

Activities that may be funded under the VAIC discretionary grant programs include:

  • Victim advocate staff.

  • Victim service volunteers.

  • Crisis intervention.

  • Twenty-four-hour crisis hotlines.

  • Emergency transportation of victims.

  • Emergency shelter.

  • Mental health counseling.

  • Court advocacy and accompaniment.

  • Bilingual counseling services.

Overall, since 1988, OVC has provided over $8.4 million in grants to establish thirty-two victim assistance programs in Indian county. Examples of some recently-funded programs include the first Native American Children's Advocacy Center and four Court-Appointed Special Advocate programs (CASA).

In 1996, the Attorney General launched the Indian Country Justice Initiative at the Pueblo of Laguna and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. This initiative is a comprehensive approach to tribal criminal justice issues and a laboratory for promising practices that can be adapted in other areas of Indian Country (OVC 1997).

Children's Justice Act Partnerships for Indian Communities (CJA) Program. OVC's Children's Justice Act Partnerships for Indian Communities (CJA) Program supports Indian communities in developing, establishing, and operating programs to improve the investigation, prosecution, and overall handling of child abuse cases, particularly cases of child sexual abuse, in a manner that increases support for and reduces trauma to child victims. The partnership projects are to address shortcomings in the tribal criminal justice system and to make systemic improvements in the overall response to serious child abuse and child sexual abuse cases on the reservation. OVC has committed funding support for three years, contingent upon the grantee's satisfactory performance and the availability of funds.

Significant Federal Initiatives


Federal law enforcement has stepped up its efforts to respond to child victims through multi-disciplinary responses. In 1995 the Attorney General established the Federal Agency Task Force for Missing and Exploited Children:

  • Composed of representatives from fourteen federal agencies, the mission of the Task Force is to coordinate federal resources and services to effectively address the needs of missing, abducted, and exploited children.

  • In addition to serving as an advocate and working to enhance services for missing and exploited children and their families, the Task Force has developed the publication Federal Resources on Missing and Exploited Children: A Directory for Law Enforcement and Other Public and Private Agencies. The Directory provides information on the resources, technical assistance and support, and services that are available during the investigation of cases involving missing and exploited children (Federal Agency Task Force for Missing and Exploited Children 1996).

  • The Child Abduction and Serial Killer Unit (CADKU) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is a rapid response element of the FBI's Critical Incident Response Group. Following a request by a law enforcement agency, CADKU staff can provide operational assistance to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation of child abduction.

  • In May 1998, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention published When Your Child is Missing: A Family Survival Guide. The Guide was written by parents and family members who have experienced the disappearance of a child. It contains their combined advice concerning what you can expect when your child is missing, what you can do, and where to go for help.


Since the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the victim assistance community on the local, state, and federal levels has provided tremendous support to the hundreds of victims and survivors. With support from OVC, the National Organization for Victim Assistance nine-member crisis response team arrived on the scene the day of the bombing. OVC worked closely with the United States Attorney's Office, the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education within the Department of Education, and the state of Oklahoma to provide emergency workers and services for the victims and survivors of the bombing.

An important change to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure was undertaken to allow closed circuit viewing of the trial by the victims and survivors: "Notwithstanding any provision of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure to the contrary, in order to permit victims of crime to watch criminal proceedings in cases where the venue of the trial is changed--(1) out of the State in which the case was initially brought; and (2) more than 350 miles from the location in which those proceedings originally would have taken place, the trial court shall order closed circuit televising of the proceedings to that location, for viewing by such persons the court determines have a compelling interest in doing so and are otherwise unable to do so by reason of the inconvenience and expense caused by the change of venue" (42 U.S.C. 10608, Section 235).

As a result of the many cooperative efforts resulting from the aftermath of the Oklahoma City tragedy, the Office for Victims of Crime has undertaken cooperative initiatives with the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys to be prepared to respond to future large scale crises.


In 1996, the Attorney General established the Deputy Attorney General's Victims Rights Working Group to assist in bringing the entire Department into greater compliance with victims' rights legislation and the Attorney General's Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance. The Working Group is composed of high level policy representatives from the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, Federal Bureau of Prisons, and all Department of Justice litigating divisions that handle criminal prosecutions. OVC is providing assistance to the Working Group.

The Victims' Rights Working Group was designed to:

  • Monitor and facilitate agency components' respective efforts to fulfill their victims' rights obligations.

  • Recommend policy to address operational and implementation problems.

  • Review the revised AG Guidelines.

  • Review victims' rights training curricula to ensure comprehensiveness and practical usefulness.

  • Share "best practices" and expertise among agency components.

  • Identify related resource allocation issues and obstacles to implementation and otherwise assist with implementation of victims' rights compliance throughout the Department.

Component heads were asked by the Attorney General to appoint a senior official in their office with the knowledge of the component's mission, specific responsibilities, and operations to participate in the Deputy Attorney General's Victims' Rights Working Group.

The first meeting of the Working Group was held on April 14, 1997. Representatives from every component with responsibilities to crime victims were present. The meeting was chaired by Acting Deputy Attorney General Seth Waxman, who directed each component to prepare a compliance with the AG Guidelines. Each component eventually submitted a plan which went into effect in October of 1997.

Since that time, the working group has met on a more or less bimonthly schedule. Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., chaired a meeting in November of 1997. The working group is overseeing the AG Guidelines revision and working on finding solutions for other victims issues with the Department.


In 1997, the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) sponsored the first National Symposium on Victims of Federal Crime. The symposium brought together for the first time over 800 professionals that serve crime victims from a number of federal agencies for a four-day training program that assisted federal criminal justice professionals in achieving the President's goal of holding the federal system "to a higher standard of victims' rights than ever before." The second symposium, held in February 1999, with nearly 1,000 in attendance, focused on the federal response to acts of terrorism and mass casualty.


The expected outcome of this system is to develop an automated victims information database and a means to provide timely notification of mandated events in the federal criminal justice system among the FBI, U.S. Attorneys' Offices, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Mandated events include hearing notices, trial information, sentencing information, and information on incarceration/release from prison. This system will be easily adapted to other investigativeagencies at a later date. In June 1998, OVC provided funding to the Executive Office for United States Attorneys to take the lead in this project with the assistance of a working group comprised of representatives from the FBI, OVC, and Bureau of Prisons.


According to BJS, as a result of recent federal legislation, the establishment of an effective national sex offender registry that is capable of providing instant access to data on sex offender location on an interstate basis has become a national priority. The development of the National Registry for Sexual Offenders involves a coordinated effort between:

  • The FBI, which will maintain and operate the registry.

  • The National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS), which will operate through states that will communicate registry information between and among themselves and the FBI.

  • The states, which have primary responsibility for gathering data on sex offenders for use within the state and for input into the national system.

The permanent National Sex Offender Registry File will be developed as part of the FBI's NCIC--2000 project and will include a fingerprint and photo (mugshot) image of the registered sex offender. The permanent system is expected to be in place by July 1999. Pending the establishment of a permanent system, an interim national pointer system has been established by the FBI that flags criminal history records of persons identified by states as being registered as sex offenders.

As of March 1999, the FBI indicates that thirty-five states are providing data to the interim system and that an estimated 55,000 records are currently being flagged. However, all states operate some type of sex offender registry at this time. In order for the national system to permit law enforcement agencies in each state to have information on offenders initially released in other states, or traveling throughout the nation, individual state registries must be accurate, automated, and interfaced with the national system.

As a result, in March 1998 the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) within the U.S. Department of Justice announced the establishment of the National Sex Offender Registry Assistance Program (NSOR-AP). The program is a component of the BJS National Criminal History Improvement Program. It is designed to help states ensure that state sex offender registries identify, collect, and properly disseminate relevant information that is consistent, accurate, complete, and up-to-date.

Additionally, the program will help states establish appropriate interfaces with the FBI's national system so that state registry information on sex offenders can be tracked from one jurisdiction to another. The program will assist states in meeting the relevant requirements of current federal legislation including: the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act; Megan's Law; and the Pam Lychner Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act (42 U.S.C. 14071, 14072), as amended by Section115 of the general provisions of Title I of the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary and related Appropriations Act of 1998, P.L. 105-119) and applicable state standards. The 1998 appropriation included $25 million to support the national sex offender registry (BJS 1998).


A significant development in federal law enforcement agencies' response to crime victims was the FBI's efforts in 1996 to review and expand its entire victim-witness program. Among the new initiatives, the FBI implemented a comprehensive victim assistance program at the Headquarters level. As part of this new program, the FBI created a unit for victim-witness assistance, staffed the unit with a unit chief and three supporting positions, and assigned victim-witness coordinators in each of the fifty-six FBI field offices nationwide. Emergency funding is available for federal victims of crime when no other funding resource is available and the request must respond to emergency needs that are a direct result of a crime victimization. Services may include crisis intervention, emergency food and clothing, emergency temporary housing and necessary transportation.

Federal Justice Self-Examination

1. What four major federal laws have been enacted to provided rights, services, and funding for federal crime victims?


2. Describe the role of the federal Victim-Witness Coordinator and give an example of the type of interagency assistance Coordinators can provide.


3. Describe the three types of direct services available to victims of federal crime.


4. List two significant federal initiatives undertaken to assist victims of federal crime.


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Chapter 3 Specific Justice Systems and Victims' Rights June 2002
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