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Crime Victims - Victim Compensation Laws

funds criminal crimes money

The financial well-being of victims was the first concern addressed in meeting the needs of crime victims. In the mid- 1960s courts began ordering victim compensation in criminal sentencing. Direct restitution from the criminal to the victim became a condition of probation, mostly in property crimes. Poor offenders, however, often made such compensation impossible. To address this problem, California established the first victims' compensation program in 1965. Throughout the 1970s more state legislatures passed victim compensation laws, which established pools of public funds available to crime victims to ease the losses brought about by crime.

Many believed society owed victims something for their ordeal, so money was put aside from state revenues and penalties assessed against offenders. The funds could be used to pay for lost earnings, medical expenses, funeral expenses, counseling, and property loss or damage. Though payments to individual victims can go up to $25,000, this money is not intended to provide total compensation, but to help victims survive sudden losses.

During the 1970s over forty states made any profits earned from criminals' crimes—such as the publication of a book or selling movie rights—go to their victims. The idea of seizing such funds came from a highly publicized serial murder case in New York City. Convicted murderer David Berkowitz, known as "Son of Sam," was supposed to receive profits from a book about his crimes. In 1977 the New York legislature passed a law to seize any profits related to a convicted criminal's crimes and placed them in a special fund to pay any victims who might sue the criminal for damages. Through these Son of Sam laws, states are able to regulate money made from crimes and encourage victims to sue their attackers.

Congress passed Victims of Crime Act in 1984 setting up a similar fund for federal criminal cases. The act also provides money for state compensation funds using funds from penalties against federal criminals. The government gives states 40 percent of whatever the state paid to crime victims the previous year. In 1996 Congress passed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act that increased assistance and compensation to victims of terrorism.


Crime Victims - Victims' Bill Of Rights [next] [back] Crime Victims - The Right To Sue And Bear Witness

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