Have you or someone you love recently become the victim of a violent crime? It's normal to wonder about your legal rights. You may be struggling with common questions like:
- Can I get court-ordered restitution?
- Are there other forms of available financial compensation?
- Can third parties be held liable for failing to prevent crime?
- Should I talk to a lawyer about my legal rights?
Our victim's rights lawyers can make sure you get the full financial support you need and deserve.
"Thank you." Thanks to them, we could afford our therapy and other expenses.
Violent crimes usually carry the most severe penalties. In many states, murder can still be punished through execution, a fact that distinguishes the United States’ criminal justice system from those in most other developed nations. Punishing criminals, and deterring would-be criminals from committing crimes, is the primary goal of the American criminal justice system. Supporting the victims of crime is not.
While every state has now established a victims’ compensation fund, state-run trusts only offer financial reimbursement for out-of-pocket losses. Their awards, though necessary for many victims, are far from sufficient to support the process of recovery.
Is Compensation Available For Victims Of Violent Crime?
In the absence of help from the criminal justice system, many crime victims and families turn to the civil justice system, choosing to file lawsuits against a criminal offender or third-party whose negligence allowed the crime to occur.
Most people don’t realize it at first, but in many cases, victims of crime have a legal right to pursue compensation from business and property owners, along with the actual criminals who harmed them.
In many jurisdictions, these legal rights also extend to family members who have lost loved ones to violent crime, along with the estates left behind by people after their deaths.
In this guide, our experienced victims’ advocates will cover the range of criminal offenses that most jurisdictions consider “violent” crimes. It’s crucial, though, to understand that victims of any form of crime may be eligible to pursue a civil lawsuit for compensation. This right is not exclusive to people who were injured by violent crimes, as that term is defined by various state laws. It's also important to remember that criminal laws can vary dramatically from state-to-state.
Assault & Battery
Assault and battery often come together, but in most states, they're actually two different crimes. Battery is a simple concept; it's the infliction of physical harm on someone else. Assault generally comes before battery. When prosecutors charge a suspect with assault, it means the alleged offender caused someone to fear the infliction of physical harm.
Raising one's hand to another person, for example, would be an instance of assault, in the event that a reasonable person would believe themselves to be at risk of suffering harm. Battery comes next, after the fear of harm has been created, when that fear is realized through an actual strike, blow or hit.
Battery isn't just slapping or punching someone, either. The crime can also be committed through the use of weaponry. Shootings and stabbings, in the criminal law, thus constitute instances of battery, though many states impose harsher penalties when assault and battery are committed through the use of a deadly weapon.
Most jurisdictions employ a distinction between "simple" and "aggravated" assaults, where the latter crime is characterized by the use of a weapon or the infliction of severe injuries.
Most jurisdictions define domestic violence as unreasonably aggressive behavior in the home. A subset of these crimes are often referred to as intimate partner violence to describe instances of violent conduct that occurs between spouses, girlfriends and boyfriends or other romantic partners.
Domestic violence is a fairly broad category of crimes; in principle, it can cover any sort of violent behavior, from assault and battery to rape, that occurs within a home or between intimate partners. On the ground, most state laws use the charge of domestic violence as a way to increase criminal penalties; in these jurisdictions, domestic violence isn't its own crime, but an additional aspect that can be added to other criminal charges.
Elder abuse is a widespread, but largely unrecognized, problem in America. The elderly are among the most vulnerable members of our population, and that vulnerability often empowers abusers to exploit, harass and victimize the older Americans who they care for.
Most states have specific criminal laws prohibiting the mistreatment of older people, usually defining an "elder" as someone over the age of 65. At the same time, most jurisdictions have made it a crime for a caregiver to either abuse or neglect an elder, prohibiting any form of mistreatment that affects older Americans.
Any crime motivated by bias or prejudice against the victim based on the victim's membership in a "protected" category is a hate crime.
The federal criminal definition of hate crime goes far beyond acts of violence. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was created to protect minorities from injury, intimidation or interference in their participation in six protected activities: securing a public education, finding employment, performing jury duty, traveling, finding housing and enjoying public accommodations, like staying at a hotel or eating at a restaurant. Any person who, through force or the threat of force, attempts to interfere with another person in pursuing these six activities has committed a hate crime under federal law.
Most states have taken up this general rubric and used it to expand the punishments imposed for other crimes. In California, for example, murders, sexual assaults and other crimes committed due to the offender's prejudice against the victim come with stricter penalties than crimes that aren't motivated by bias. The vast majority of jurisdictions have similar rules, setting out harsher penalties for hate crimes.
Today, only four states - Georgia, Indiana, Utah and Wyoming - have no hate crime laws.
Homicide & Manslaughter
Homicide is a general term for any criminal act that results in the death of someone else. As such, the category of homicides includes both murder and manslaughter, which differ in their intent. Murderers intentionally kill other people. Offenders who commit manslaughter may have intended to commit a crime, but they didn't intend to kill anyone.
Most state criminal laws define a variety of homicide and manslaughter charges, depending on the offender's level of intent and degree of premeditation. In many cases, surviving family members have every right to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit, in civil court, to secure financial damages in the wake of a loved one's crime-related death.
Robbery & Burglary
In most states, robbery, burglary and theft are three separate crimes that all involve some form of stealing. And, in some cases, you'll see the three crimes combined in a single conviction.
Theft is the basic act of stealing, taking someone else's private property without their authorization and with the intent of depriving them of their property forever. Borrowing something without authorization, then returning it, is not, strictly speaking, theft.
Robbery, on the other hand, describes crimes in which physical force, intimidation or the threat of physical force is used to attempt or accomplish a theft.
Burglary is the unauthorized entry into a structure (your house or apartment, a private business) with the intent to commit a crime. If a person broke into your house, stole your jewelry, then sold it, they would be guilty of all three crimes: theft, burglary and robbery.
Sexual Assault & Child Sexual Abuse
Sexual assault and rape are two of the most-horrific violations imaginable. Most states have a range of criminal laws to prohibit and punish unlawful sexual conduct, from non-consensual touching with the intent to arouse oneself to forcible penetration. As you may already know, rape is generally described as any form of penetration, however slight, to which the victim does not consent, including vaginal, anal and oral penetration. Sexual assault, on the other hand, is used to describe any form of unwanted sexual contact that does not involve penetration.
When children are involved in any of these crimes, the criminal punishments intensify. Under every state's criminal law, children (usually people under the age of 18) are presumed to be unable to consent to sexual activity. Any form of sexual contact with a minor is likely to be illegal child sex abuse, including some instances of sexual contact between two minors.