Who is a “Victim”?
It seems logical to think that any person harmed by criminal conduct is a “victim” within the definition of victims’ right laws. But in fact, “victim” is a term defined within victims’ rights laws, and only those individuals meeting the definition of victim may invoke the protections within these laws. The definition of “victim” is dependent on the laws where the criminal case is pending but victim status is usually limited to those harmed by certain types of crimes or an enumerated list of offenses.
In some instances—particularly when the crime victim is a child, is deceased, or otherwise lacks capacity to assert their rights—immediate family members are entitled to assert crime victims’ rights either on their own behalf or as the victim’s representative.
It is imperative that you understand which crime victims meet the legal definition of “victim,” such that they are entitled to protections under a particular state’s victims’ rights laws and provisions.1 Consult your agency’s state-specific supplemental guide regarding the legal definition of victim in your state.
1. For a more detailed introduction to crime victims’ rights, see the National Crime Victim Law Institute’s (NCVLI) “Fundamentals of Victims’ Rights: An Overview of the Legal Definition of Crime ‘Victim’ in the United States” or NCVLI’s compilation of victims' rights by state.
*Reprinted, reproduced and/or shared with permission of the National Crime Victim Law Institute (NCVLI), all rights reserved. NCVLI actively promotes balance and fairness in the justice system through crime victim centered legal advocacy, education, and resource sharing. To view NCVLI's library of crime victims' rights publications and other resources, please visit www.ncvli.org.