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The Federal Victim-Witness Act

Posted by Alex Hernandez
July 1, 2014

If you or someone you know has been the victim of a crime, or if you have been called to testify before a federal grand jury or trial, you may have questions about what you can expect as a case works its way through the system.  This post will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about what a crime victim or witness can expect when dealing with the federal criminal justice system.

Crime Victims Have Rights

Title 18, United States Code, Section 3771(a) was passed by Congress to insure that victims of crime are treated fairly and conferred the following rights.

  1. The right to be reasonably protected from the accused.
  2. The right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any public court proceeding, or any parole proceeding, involving the crime or any release or escape of the accused.
  3. The right not to be excluded from any such public court proceeding, unless the court, after receiving clear and convincing evidence, determines that testimony by the victim would be materially altered if the victim heard other testimony at that proceeding.
  4. The right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court, involving release, plea, sentencing, or any parole proceeding.
  5. The reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the government in the case.
  6. The right to full and timely restitution as provided in law.
  7. The right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay.
  8. The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy.

Do I need a lawyer?

A crime victim or witness has the right to consult with an attorney or have that attorney represent the witness during all contact with federal law enforcement authorities.  In fact, some crime victims prefer to have an attorney act as their representative in all dealings with federal law enforcement.  Criminal Defense attorneys, for example, have represented crime victims during the grand jury investigation and trial process.

I have been subpoenaed to testify, do I have the right to an attorney?

It is always advisable to consult with an attorney if you have been subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury or subpoenaed to produce any documents or evidence in any federal proceeding.  This is true even if you are certain that you have done nothing wrong.  The government recognizes how important it is to have access to counsel when appearing before the grand jury or at trial.  In fact, if you are unable to pay for counsel, the government is required to have the Court appoint counsel to represent you and consult with you to make sure that you do not inadvertently implicate yourself under oath.


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