ULC

Victims of Crime Act, Model Summary

The Uniform Victims of Crime Act (UVCA), promulgated by the Uniform Law Commissioners in 1992, has three separate articles, each dealing with specific satisfaction of losses suffered by victims of crime. The three articles deal with victims' rights in the proceedings of the criminal justice system, from indictment through sentencing and on into parole; with compensation of victims personally injured during the commission of crimes; and with monetary restitution for the victims' losses by criminal defendants convicted of committing the crimes.

  

There has been much interest and consideration of crime victims' rights, particularly in the decade preceding the promulgation of the Uniform Act. There are a number of state statutes that provide victims of crime with rights in the criminal justice proceedings that occur if a defendant is found, arrested, and indicted. But there is considerable variety in these statutes, and the first article of the UVCA is designed to encourage uniformity between the states with respect to what those rights are.

The rights accorded to victims in the UVCA may be divided into three general categories, protection of victims during criminal justice proceedings, appearance rights of the victim in the proceedings, other than the usual appearance as a witness, and, rights to information and notice with respect to the specific proceedings.

To protect a victim, the UVCA provides a right of confidentiality to a victim. Only insofar as it is absolutely essential to the prosecution of the crime can the victim's name and address be revealed. Particular protection is given to victims of sex crimes.

Other protective rights include a right to be kept safe because a victim or family member cooperates with criminal justice officials. A victim has a right to prompt return of property when its evidentiary value is past. A victim has employment protection for participating in and attending a criminal prosecution.

A victim's appearance rights include a right to appear and object to any motion that might substantially delay prosecution of a crime. The prosecutor is required to confer with a victim before amending or dismissing a charge, or agreeing to a negotiated plea or diversion of the defendant. This accords the victim an opportunity to object to any part of the decision the prosecution has made. A victim has a right to be present at any proceeding other than a grand jury proceeding.

The principal victim's appearance right, however, is the right to provide the court with a victim's impact statement during sentencing of the criminal defendant. A similar right to an impact statement is provided in parole proceedings. The victim may provide a written statement, deliver a statement orally in the sentencing or parole proceeding, or both. The statement is a broad review of the impact of the crime upon the victim, and may include an opinion as to the appropriate sentence or disposition of the criminal defendant. The statement is part of the information available to the court or parole board for determining the disposition of the defendant.

Victims of crime have rights to information from law enforcement, from prosecution offices, and, finally, from correctional agencies. Law enforcement is obligated, initially, to give victims information on their rights under the law. Law enforcement, also, must give victims information about individuals taken into custody and about their disposition. Law enforcement must also provide victims with information about support services that are available.

The prosecution office must keep victims apprised of the progress of the prosecution, and then about sentencing procedures. If there is an appeal or petition for a post-conviction remedy, the attorney general or appropriate state agency must provide victims with information on those proceedings. Once there is a sentenced defendant, the corrections agency provides information, at a victim's request, respecting release, parole, or any other disposition decision that might be made in the correctional setting.

The information that the victim receives helps the victim implement his or her other rights. Information is the lubrication of the whole system of victims' rights and protection.

The second article establishes a crime victim's compensation program in an enacting state. Such programs are generally available in all the states in the United States, and there is federal funding available in the form of block grants administered by the U.S. Justice Department. The objective of the victim's compensation article of the UVCA is to provide uniformity that will foster better cooperation between states and the federal government, and that will reduce any incentive to forum shop between states for compensation. This article, also, is continuation of earlier business of the ULC. It is based upon the Uniform Crime Victims Reparations Act of 1973, an Act which now becomes obsolete.

A state agency is designated as the program administrator. It has essential powers to administer the program and to obtain the information necessary for considering claims. Claims may be made to the program by any victim suffering physical, emotional, or psychological injury or impairment as a result of a crime. Any compensation granted will be for economic losses, such as medical expenses and loss of income. The victim making a claim must show that the crime was reported within 72 hours of its commission. Participation in the crime leading to injury will result in reduction of award or its outright denial. The award will be reduced to prevent unjust enrichment. Recovery of damages in a civil action, or restitution from the criminal defendant, will be taken into account in making an award. The state obtains a right of subrogation to the extent that it has provided compensation.

If a victim is eligible for compensation, notwithstanding the extent of injury, there will be limits upon available compensation. The maximum suggested award is $25,000.00, and there is an initial $50.00 deductible. The compensation program should not be looked upon as a program for completely making the victim whole, but as a program to ease the financial burdens of victims within the confines of available state money. The administrator has the power to scale down compensation when the state budget limits require it.

The compensation program is a state and federally funded insurance program. Insurance programs are always limited with respect to benefits that can be paid. But this program has the capacity to put injured victims of crime back on their feet, particularly when there is no other source of compensation that can be found.

The last article concerns obtaining restitution for economic losses from a convicted defendant to compensate the victim of the crime. The criminal court has broad powers to consider restitution as part of the sentencing process. It determines what the economic losses of the victim are, and what the resources of the criminal defendant are, and rules on restitution, accordingly. Restitution may be ordered for economic losses, whether for personal injury or loss of property. The court retains continuing jurisdiction over the defendant to enforce and administer any restitution order. If the victim brings a civil action against the defendant, the restitution payments will be taken into account in establishing civil damages. The victim's right to seek a civil remedy is expressly preserved. If restitution payments are somehow not collected, the proceeds belong to the crime victim's compensation program. If the crime victim's compensation program has paid economic losses, restitution initially involves payment to the program for the amounts of economic losses already paid.

Restitution is a remedy of the criminal court. It is available to the victim of a crime, without the expense and delay of filing a civil action. If there are resources from which restitution can be ordered, then the victim may obtain a remedy much quicker than is otherwise the case. Restitution, as a remedy for victims, accompanies and eases the burden on the state for crime victims' compensation. As a remedy, it rounds out the panoply of victims' rights in the UVCA.