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Victims' Rights

What are victims' rights?

Virginia law contains a Crime Victim and Witness Rights Act, usually referred to as the Victims Bill of Rights. (Code of Virginia § 19.2-11.01)

The Victims Bill of Rights is intended to ensure that crime victims:

  • have opportunities to make the courts aware of the full impact of crime;

  • are treated with dignity, respect, and sensitivity and have their privacy protected;

  • are informed of their rights;

  • receive authorized services; and

  • are heard at all critical stages of the criminal justice process.

Who are victims?

Virginia’s Victims Bill of Rights recognizes victims as anyone who has suffered physical, emotional, or financial harm as a direct result of a crime or certain delinquent acts. When the victim is a minor, the definition of victim includes his or her parents or guardians.

Which specific rights do victims have?

The specific rights victims have depend on case circumstances.

Examples of some rights victims most often choose to exercise are: being notified of court dates, remaining in the courtroom during hearings, and giving victim impact statements at sentencing hearings.

  • Victims may ask to be notified of court dates, including preliminary hearings, plea agreement hearings, trials, and sentencing hearings.

  • Victims have the right to remain in the courtroom during all court proceedings the defendant attends, unless the judge has determined the presence of the victim would impair the conduct of a fair trial. Examples of these court proceedings are: bail or bond hearings, preliminary hearings, trials, and sentencing hearings. Additionally, if the victim is less than 18 years of age, the court may permit an adult chosen by the victim to remain in the courtroom as a support person for the victim.

  • After a defendant is found guilty in circuit court, the judge may consider a victim impact statement in determining the offender’s sentence. The victim impact statement gives the victim the opportunity to tell the court, in writing, the impact of the crime(s). Victims may also be given the opportunity to testify, at the sentencing hearing, regarding the impact of the crime(s).

If the victim or witness cannot speak English or is hearing impaired, a court-approved interpreter may be appointed to assist during the criminal justice process, at no cost to the victim.

If a victim or witness is worried about having to wait in an area near the defendant or defense witnesses, a separate waiting area for victims and witnesses may be provided.

In some cases, victims may receive financial assistance. Under certain circumstances, the defendant may be ordered to repay the victim, at least partially, for losses. This is called “restitution.” If the victim was injured during the crime, the victim or his or her surviving family members may be eligible to receive money from a victims’ compensation fund. Witnesses traveling from out of town may be eligible for reimbursement of expenses related to each day’s attendance in court. Crime victims may also bring civil lawsuits against perpetrators or other responsible parties to hold them accountable for harm suffered.

These are not all the rights of victims and witnesses. In all cases, ask the victim/witness program staff or the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office for information on specific procedures and services available in your locality.

What is a victim impact statement?

Virginia law allows victims to submit a written statement that describes the impact of crimes on the victim and his or her family. (Code of Virginia §§ 19.2-299.1 and 16.1-273) These statements may be considered by the court in deciding a sentence.

The victim impact statement may contain information about:

  • physical injuries and medical treatment received;

  • psychological effects of the crime and treatment received;

  • life changes as a result of the crime, including personal welfare, lifestyle, or family
    relationships; and/or

  • economic losses.

How can I find out about victim or witness services in my community?

The law enforcement agencies investigating a crime will give victims written information about their rights, including the telephone numbers of the Commonwealth’s Attorney and other numbers to call for additional information or to receive services. They may also call the statewide toll-free Virginia Crime Victim Assistance INFO-LINE at 1-888-887-3418.

Victim/witness programs are available to provide information and assistance. It is important that victims and witnesses contact the program to learn about the different types of assistance available to them. For example, a victim who wants to receive notice of court dates or notice when an offender is released from jail must make sure the Commonwealth’s Attorney and other agencies have accurate contact information.

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is a pattern of physically, sexually, and/or emotionally abusive behaviors used by one individual to assert power or maintain control over another in the context of an intimate or family relationship.

What assistance is available for victims of domestic violence?

Domestic violence programs offer services (usually 24 hours a day) for victims of domestic violence and their children who have been physically or emotionally abused, or who have been threatened with abuse by their spouses or partners. Services that may be available include: crisis intervention, counseling, shelter, escort to court, food, clothing, and transportation.

Where can I find out about domestic violence services in my community?

Call the statewide, toll-free Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-838-8238, which is operated by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. The hotline staff can put you in touch with your local victim/witness program, domestic violence program, and/or court service unit. Someone is there to answer your questions 24 hours a day.

Victims of Sexual Assault

What is sexual assault?

Sexual assault is sexual abuse of an individual by the use of force, threat, or intimidation. Rape, sexual battery, and attempts to commit these crimes are some of the several types of sexual assault offenses.

What assistance is available for victims of sexual assault?

Sexual assault crisis centers offer services 24 hours a day. Services offered include: crisis intervention and emotional support, advocacy, and information on legal, counseling, and medical options available.

Where can I find out about sexual assault services in my community?

Call the statewide, toll-free Family Violence and Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-838-8238, which is operated by the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. The hotline staff can put you in touch with your local victim/witness program, domestic violence program, and/or court service unit. Someone is there to answer your questions 24 hours a day.