Your Rights as a Federal Crime Victim
You have a number of rights that must be recognized by the criminal justice professionals involved in your case. As a federal crime victim, you have the right to:
If you have been identified as a federal crime victim of an FBI case, the FBI's victim/witness coordinator can provide you with additional information concerning your rights and assist you as a liaison regarding employment and credit issues. Each federal prosecutor has a victim/witness coordinator who can provide you with additional information about your rights and the services available to you and help you take advantage of them.
Your greatest concern in the justice process may be the defendant's responsibility to repay your financial losses. Unfortunately, the chance of recovery is usually small. Many defendants will have spent your money and will not have sufficient assets to repay you. Additionally, restitution payments may be delayed if the defendant is sentenced to jail or prison. (Most restitution payments begin only after the defendant is released.)
The federal criminal justice system has made repayment to crime victims a priority. Here are some of your legal options.
Court-Ordered Restitution. The court must order restitution for federal fraud crimes committed after April 24, 1996, regardless of the defendant's ability to pay. (For crimes committed on or before that date, the judge may consider the defendant's ability to pay.) The court sets the amount of restitution, the order in which victims will be paid (if there are multiple victims, usually those with the most pressing financial needs are paid first), and conditions for repayment. You will be required to submit a documented account of your financial losses before the judge orders restitution. (That account can be submitted as part of the pre-sentence investigation report or the victim impact statement.) Losses that can be considered for restitution include:
Some financial losses are not eligible for restitution. Among them are:
If you do not have access to all financial loss information at the time of sentencing, or if you incur additional losses not known at the time of sentencing, you may petition the court for an amended restitution order within 60 days of discovering those losses.
The victim/witness coordinator, federal prosecutor, and U.S. Probation Department will help you decide which financial losses to include in your request for restitution.
Restitution Payment Plan. The court will consider several issues before determining a restitution payment plan for the defendant:
If the court finds the defendant lacks sufficient assets to satisfy the restitution order, it may allow restitution through a payment plan monitored by the U.S. Probation Department. If the defendant fails to make the payments, the court can take several steps:
Seizure and Forfeiture of Assets. Within the federal prosecutor's office, the Financial Litigation Unit (FLU) works to uncover any assets the defendant may have that could be sold, seized, or forfeited to satisfy the restitution debt. All identified assets are brought to the court's attention so that a legal ruling can be made either to liquidate the assets or to place an attachment (lien) against them until restitution is paid in full. These liens are enforceable for 20 years from the time a defendant is released from prison. During that time, the FLU will continue to monitor the defendant's ability to repay his or her court-ordered costs. It is important to keep the federal prosecutor's office, especially the FLU, apprised of any changes in your contact information until you have been paid in full. If you have other questions about court-ordered restitution, contact the federal prosecutor and victim/witness coordinator.
Civil Recovery. Civil recovery is another option for recovering your financial losses, especially those not considered in the criminal justice system. Civil recovery is an action separate from the criminal prosecution, and filing a civil action does not preclude you from requesting restitution in the criminal case.
Civil cases are private matters. You have to initiate the action and hire a lawyer at your own expense. Sometimes a fraud case is pursued in both criminal and civil courts. To learn more about your civil options, contact an attorney with experience in civil law, or contact your local bar association for referrals. Be aware that civil cases must be filed within a specified time frame (legally defined as statute of limitations). Therefore, contact an attorney as soon as possible to find out the applicable statute of limitations in your state. If you proceed with civil recovery, notify the federal prosecutor or victim/witness coordinator.
If your loss is small, you may want to investigate filing a claim in small claims court. The amount of damages for which you can sue varies from state to state, as does the time frame you have for initiating a small claims court action. Contact the local clerk of the court to learn your jurisdiction's filing instructions, costs, damage limits, and time frames. Suits filed in small claims courts do not usually require the services of an attorney. To locate the clerk of the court, see the government section of your local phone directory.
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