The Volokh Conspiracy

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crime victims

My Article on Defining the Term "Victim" in Crime Victims' Rights Enactments

The article explains how the federal Crime Victims' Rights Act and other crime victim protections contain a broad definition of the term "victim."


Today, I posted on SSRN my new, co-authored law review article regarding how to define the term "victim" in the Crime Victims Rights Act and other crime victims' rights enactments.  Here's a summary:

Who qualifies as a "victim" is the critical foundational question for the Crime Victims' Rights Act (CVRA) and other crime victims' rights laws. This article provides the first comprehensive exploration of this "victim" definition question. It traces out how the CVRA (and many states) define the term "victim" as broadly covering anyone who has been harmed as the result of a crime.

This article begins by reviewing how issues surrounding the definition of "victim" have evolved in the criminal justice system since the Nation's founding. In the last several decades, as crime victims' rights protections have proliferated, it has become necessary to define "victim" with precision. The definition of "victim" has gradually evolved from a person who was the target of a crime to a much broader understanding of a person who has suffered harm as the result of a crime.

The CVRA provides a good illustration of the expansive contemporary definition of "crime victim"—a definition whose implications frequently are not fully appreciated by courts, prosecutors, and other actors in the federal criminal justice system. The Act defines victim as a person "directly and proximately harmed" by a crime. This definition extends crime victims' protections to many persons who may not have been the target of a crime. This article also analyzes important categories of crimes—violent, property, firearms, environmental, and government process crimes—where "victim" definition issues often occur. It also takes a close look at a significant recent case involving the CVRA's crime victim definition: the Boeing 737 MAX crashes case.

The article concludes by arguing that legislators should adopt, and courts should enforce, a far-reaching conception of a "crime victim" as anyone who suffers harm from a crime. This conception is needed to ensure that important victims' rights are extended to all who need their protection.

This issue of who qualifies as a "victim" is increasingly being litigated in cases around the country. For example, in my case involving Boeing's two 737 MAX crashes, I prevailed on the "crime victim" issue discussed in this article. As I blogged about earlier, last October, Judge Reed O'Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas found that the families whose loved ones were killed in the crashes were "victims" of Boeing's crime of conspiring to deceive the FAA about the safety of its aircraft. There have been some new developments in the case that I hope to blog about shortly.

If you are interested in cases reviewing who qualifies as a "victim," you can download and read the whole article here.