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Victims of Crime

Victim Compensation Laws

During the 1970s many states enacted victim compensation statutes, which authorize payment of money from the public treasury to crime victims so that they are not forced to bear the full burden of the crime. Although compensation can be provided for lost earnings, medical expenses, and the replacement of missing property, the majority of plans do not replace every dollar lost.

Most compensation plans provide benefits only to victims who have low income or few resources, although some plans allow anyone who is an innocent victim or did not contribute to the cause of her injuries to receive benefits. Some plans pay benefits only to victims who are physically injured or to the families of victims who are killed.

An individual who wishes to apply for crime victim compensation must do so promptly after the injury. Ordinarily, this is done by filling out a form provided by the state official or victim compensation board responsible for administering the program. States generally will not consider applications filed later than a specified period after the crime.

An Automated Victim Notification System

Crime victims commonly worry about the day when an inmate convicted in their case is released from custody. Women who have been stalked and victimized by boyfriends and former spouses fear that they will return again. Only rarely is the victim promptly notified of an inmate's release. In 1997 the state of Kentucky addressed this problem by introducing the first completely automated victim notification system.

The Kentucky system, called Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE)™, is a statewide system that seeks to help crime victims, especially those who have been subjected to DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. The VINE system keeps tabs on inmates in Kentucky's 17 state prisons and 83 county jails.

To obtain information, a person dials a toll-free number and supplies the prisoner's name or prison identification number. A computer then provides information as to where the prisoner is incarcerated, the telephone number and address of the jail or prison, the date of the inmate's next PAROLE hearing, and the date the sentence expires.

In addition, a person may confidentially register with the automated system and request to be notified when an inmate is released. Registered persons automatically receive a telephone call within ten minutes of an inmate's transfer or release, giving them time to take precautions.


"VINE Brochure." Available online at <gov.state.ky.us/domviol/vinebrch.htm> (accessed February 27, 2004).

As part of a victim compensation plan, a state may take any profit a criminal makes from the crime and hold it in trust to pay victims who successfully sue the criminal. This feature is designed to encourage victims who would ordinarily not sue because they are aware that most criminals cannot pay judgments. Under such a plan, any money paid to a convicted criminal for a book, story, or dramatization of the crime must be turned over to the state and the funds deposited into a special escrow account and held available to pay any victim who successfully sues the criminal. Forty-one states have adopted such laws, and the federal government established a similar process in the VICTIMS OF CRIME ACT OF 1984 (18 U.S.C.A. §§ 3681–3682).

These statutes are known as "Son of Sam" laws after David Berkowitz, a New York serial killer who left a note signed "Son of Sam" at the scene of one of his crimes and was thereafter nicknamed Son of Sam by the New York press. The first Son of Sam law (N.Y. Exec. Law § 632-a [McKinney 1990]) was enacted by the New York state legislature in 1977 after it learned that Berkowitz was planning to sell his story of serial killing.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the New York law in Simon and Schuster v. New York Victims Crime Board, 502 U.S. 105, 112 S. Ct. 501, 116 L. Ed. 2d 476 (1991). The Court held that the law was based on the content of a publication and therefore violated the FIRST AMENDMENT. New York quickly amended its law to apply to any economic benefit the criminal derived from the crime, not just the proceeds from the sale of the offender's story. This redefinition was intended to eliminate the unconstitutional regulation of expressive activity and reconceptualize the law as a regulation of economic proceeds from crime. Other states have modified their laws as well, but it remains to be seen if they will be found constitutional.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Vest to Water RightsVictims of Crime - Right To Sue, Victim Compensation Laws, An Automated Victim Notification System, Victims' Rights Laws