Virginia’s Crime Victim and Witnesses Rights Act
The “Crime Victim and Witness Rights Act” (usually referred to as the Victims’ Bill of Rights) was made law by the Virginia General Assembly in 1995. The purpose of this law is to ensure that victims and witnesses of crime:
- Have opportunities to make the courts aware of the full impact of the crime.
- Are treated with dignity, respect and sensitivity and that their privacy is protected where the law allows.
- Have an opportunity to be heard at critical stages of the criminal justice process.
What is the Victim-Witness Assistance Program?
The Rockbridge County Victim-Witness Assistance Program helps to ensure that victims of crime will receive fair and compassionate treatment throughout the judicial process. Our primary purpose is to help victims and witnesses prepare for trial through support and education. Your role as a witness is an important one, but the responsibilities involved may be unfamiliar to you.
Crime in Rockbridge County touches all of us. When one person is victimized, we all – as a community – suffer. If you are not personally a victim of crime, then you know a relative, friend or neighbor who is. Being a victim of, or a witness to, crime can be a frightening experience. You often feel violated by the intrusion into your life and are left with feelings of anger and pain.
Victims and witnesses naturally look to the criminal justice system for vindication and justice, but all too often find a court system which appears to be dedicated to protecting the very people who have caused their anger and pain. While the criminal justice system is designed to protect, support and serve our communities, most citizens do not learn about it until after they become victims of crime. However, no criminal can be successfully prosecuted without the valuable assistance of victims and witnesses.
The Victim-Witness Assistance Program has been provided to help victims and witnesses – to answer questions – to keep you informed – to provide referrals to counseling and support groups – and to provide personal assistance when possible. I encourage you to contact our Victim-Witness Program if you have any questions or need our assistance in any way.
Services Provided by the Victim-Witness Assistance Program
- Insure that victims have a voice throughout the criminal justice process.
- Information about rights accorded to Crime Victims and Witnesses.
- Escort a victim to and from court when requested.
- Case Status Updates – police investigation, court dates and the outcome of the case.
- Transportation assistance.
- Arrange pre-trial meetings between the prosecuting attorney and victim.
- Provide a tour of the courtroom.
- Explanation of court procedures and the role of a possible witness.
- Employer intercession as it relates to your case.
- Crisis intervention and referral to social service agencies and counseling agencies.
- Provide and assist with the filing of claims to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund.
- Assistance in preparing the Victim Impact Statement.
- Crime prevention information and assistance.
- Assistance with the recovery of personal property held as evidence.
- Monitoring of restitution as ordered by the courts.
- Information regarding travel expense reimbursements.
Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund
If you are a victim of a crime and were physically injured during the crime, or injured trying to stop the crime, or you are the surviving spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, or child of a victim who was killed because of a crime, then you may be entitled to reimbursement for:
- Loss of earnings.
- Un-reimbursed, out of pocket, medical expenses.
- Funeral expenses up to $3,500 (Three Thousand Five Hundred Dollars)
- Expenses attributable to pregnancy resulting from forcible rape.
- Other expenses resulting from your injury or from the death of a crime victim.
To receive compensation you must:
- Report the crime to the police or other law enforcement agency within 120 hours (or show cause for not doing so);
- Cooperate with law enforcement agencies and the courts;
- File a compensation claim within 1 year from the date of the crime (or show good cause for not doing so); and
- File an application for payment of medical expenses through State and Local Hospitalization (SLH) within 30 days of release from the hospital, if those expenses are not covered by health insurance.
The Commonwealth Attorney’s Office and the Victim-Witness Program are available to assist victims and their families in filing claims for compensation through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund.
Employer Intercession: Under current Virginia law, a person cannot be fired for being subpoenaed to court. In addition, your employer may not discipline you, or require you to use vacation or sick leave in order for you to go to court. However, your employer is not required to pay you for your time in court.
Victim Impact Statement: In certain cases and under specific circumstances, after a defendant is found guilty, the Judge may consider a Victim Impact Statement in determining the appropriate sentence for the defendant. This statement gives victims the opportunity to tell the court, in writing, the impact of a crime upon them. This may include financial losses, physical or emotional injuries and any major life changes that resulted from the crime(s). Assistance is available to help victims and their families in the preparation and filing of Victim Impact Statements.
Return of Property: In the investigation and prosecution for certain crimes, law enforcement authorities may hold your property as evidence until the case is completed and all appeals have been exhausted. If the withholding of your property to be used as evidence constitutes a hardship, please contact the Commonwealth’s Attorney or Victim-Witness Program. They may be able to assist you in the return of your property, provided photographs are taken of the items.
Update on Case Status: Victims have the right to be notified of bond hearings, preliminary hearings and trials. Forms to request notification are available in the Victim-Witness Program’s office. Sheriff’s Office, jail superintendents and the Department of Corrections must also notify victims, or persons designated in writing by victims, of the release, transfer, escape or change of name of a prisoner, if victims have requested notice in writing and have provided their names, current addresses and telephone numbers.
Rights Accorded to Crime Victims and Witnesses: Victims have the right to remain in the courtroom during the trial and during all hearings which the defendant may attend, unless the Judge has determined that the victim is a material witness and a motion is made to separate witnesses during the course of the trial. The motion, if made, must be granted and all witnesses must stay outside the courtroom, except while testifying, while evidence is being presented. Victims may be present at bail or bond hearings, preliminary hearings, trials, etc. The Victim-Witness Program is available to provide courtroom tours and to be with the victim throughout the trial at all times upon request.
Restitution: The defendant in a criminal case may be ordered to pay restitution to the victim for property damage or personal injuries resulting from the crime (prior to court the victim shall submit to the prosecutor an itemized list of property lost and/or other expenses). Restitution may also include interest. It is the victim’s responsibility to inform the Victim-Witness Program of any change of address. The Victim-Witness Program will help monitor restitution payments to ensure that they are being made in a timely fashion.
Travel Expenses for a Victim or Witness: The Commonwealth of Virginia will reimburse certain travel expenses for victims or witnesses provided the following conditions are met:
- The victim or witnesses is subpoenaed by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.
- The victim or witness travels more than fifty (50) miles in one direction to appear in court.
- The travel reimbursement has been approved by the prosecutor assigned to the case and arrangements are made through the Victim-Witness Office.