V.Managing Mass Victim Cases
Perhaps a victim/witness coordinator's most challenging responsibility is the coordination of mass victim cases. Such cases are common in fraud crimes and can involve hundreds or even thousands of victims. Notification challenges are heightened when victims are spread over the entire country. Additionally, many fraud investigations involve multiple jurisdictions and investigative agencies, compounding the difficulty of obtaining victims' contact information. It is not surprising that the delivery of even the most basic victim services in such cases can be overwhelming.
Several strategies have proven successful for victim/witness coordinators who must manage mass victim cases. Some strategies require the purchase of equipment or the contracting of services to streamline the notification process. Others simply involve old-fashioned ingenuity.
A.Automated Victim Notification
Automated victim notification programs enable registered victims to access court-related information 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with a simple phone call to a national call center established by the vendor. Such programs work by establishing interfaces with existing case documentation systems located in prosecutors' offices, court clerks' offices, and detention facilities and then downloading the information into databases housed in the vendors' call center.
Automated victim notification systems allow several options. They can relate the offender's custody status (and even warn of an offender's escape from custody) and provide court dates, times, locations, cancellations, and postponements. They can impart that information via an outgoing phone call or by producing and distributing notification letters to registered victims. (See sample letters and forms in Appendix B.) In addition, victims can usually call the system on a toll-free number. Information is normally provided in a number of languages.
An added benefit of automated programs is that they eliminate the redundant entering of case information by multiple agencies. Victims can be entered into the system as early as their offender's arrest, and they can update their personal contact information--by phone--throughout the progress of the case, including prosecution and incarceration.
B.Coordination Between Probation and U.S. Attorneys
Provisions under the Mandatory Victims' Restitution Act require the U.S. Probation Department to notify victims of the following:
To reduce the duplication of work, victim/witness coordinators may wish to consider working with probation officers to determine the appropriateness and feasibility of including other information in notification correspondence to satisfy both the agencies' mandates for notification and victims' need for comprehensive case-related information.
C.Use of Provisions Found Under 18 U.S.C. 3555, Order of Notice to Victims
Provisions of this statute provide that the court, when imposing a sentence on a defendant who has been found guilty of an offense involving fraud or other intentionally deceptive practices, may order (in addition to the sentence) that the defendant give reasonable notice and explanation of the conviction, in such a form as the court may approve, to the victims of the offense, not to exceed a cost to the defendant of $20,000. The notice may be ordered to given by mail, by advertising in designated areas or media, or by other appropriate means.
Recently, the U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of California, used this provision to require the defendant in a telemarketing/direct mail scheme to provide case settlement notification to his victims as part of the plea agreement.
Some victim/witness coordinators have found it helpful to obtain a toll free (800 or 888) telephone number that allows victims to access pre-recorded information about scheduled court proceedings, cancellations, and postponements. The use of a toll-free number requires that the recording be continuously updated by program staff, but it can be an effective tool when individual calls to victims are not possible. Notice of the number should be included in any initial victim contact correspondence. Victim/witness coordinators who wish further information should contact the Executive Office for United States Attorneys (EOUSA).
E.Equipment Designed for Mass Mailings
Direct-mail advertisers use machines to fold, staple, and process thousands of letters per hour. Machines are available that can fold, insert, label, and sort bulk mail. Similar equipment could be purchased for use in mass victim notification. Victim/witness coordinators may wish to contact direct mail advertisers or the U.S. Postal Service to learn about mass mailing equipment and obtain vendor contact information.
F.Sharing of Computerized Victim Contact Data
Victim/witness coordinators should consider asking case agents to place the names, addresses, phone numbers, and amounts of financial losses (and ages if victims are elderly due to special sentencing enhancements, where appropriate) of all victims and witnesses on computer as they are identified. The computer file should be shared with everyone in the system, including the Financial Litigation Unit, Clerk of Court, and Probation Department. Files should be updated and distributed when there is new victim contact information or when new victims are identified.
G.Generalized Notification Materials
Some victim/witness coordinators have found postcards useful for sharing court-related information with large numbers of victims. Postcards eliminate the need to stuff envelopes, reduce the cost of postage, and are easily duplicated at local copy centers. Computer-generated address labels addressed to "Victim/Witness," rather than to the individual, may also speed the notification process.
H.Private Sector Contracts
Some victim/witness coordinators have contracted out notification tasks to private sector mailing services. After signing a waiver stating that all information will be kept confidential, the mailing service should be given a computer file containing victims' names and addresses, along with the information to be delivered, and should print out a hard copy for the victim/witness coordinator. Victim/witness coordinators should, however, check their individual office's policy before embarking on a private contract. Such contracts may not be allowed.
If contracting out notification tasks is allowed, victim/witness coordinators may wish to consider contracting with local senior citizen centers or programs for the disabled (Goodwill, for example). These programs often fold, stuff, label, and affix postage at competitive prices.
In some jurisdictions, victim/witness coordinators provide court notification and case status updates through newsletters written and distributed by victims. Others seek donated newspaper space to print hearing dates and case outcomes (especially if the scam was originally advertised in the newspaper).
Victim/witness coordinators might want to explore using the World Wide Web or e-mail to enhance victim notification. Using this technology, case information can be placed on specially designed websites so victims with computer capabilities can access court status information.
Other victim/witness coordinators have realized successful results from selecting one victim to represent a large number of victims, in order to reduce the numbers of victims speaking at sentencing events, especially when the majority of victims are confined to one geographical jurisdiction.
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