COMPENSATION FOR CRIME VICTIMS
I S S U E B R I E F NUMBER I B 7 4 0 1 4
U P D A T E D 04/27/84
M. S u z a n n e C a v a n a g h
THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE
MAJOR I S S U E S S Y S T E M
D A T E O R I G I N A T E D 02/02/74
* F O R - A D D I T I O N A L I N F O R M A T I O N C A L L 287-5700
There has been a growing interest in recent years
compensation for the innocent victims of violent crime through programs
financed by the Federal and/or State Governments. At issue have been the
general propriety, desirability, and feasibility, as well as the cost, of
Feder.al support of such programs.
BACKGROUND AND POLICY ANALYSIS
The idea that a society should assist those of its citizens victimized
crime has been traced back to the ancient Babylonian Code of Hammurabi
2038 B.C.), which provided that when a man was robbed or murdered the City in
which the crime occurred should compensate. the victim or his heirs for their
Modern law, by contrast, has sharply distinguished between
and civil proceedings, so that criminal prosecutions deal only
punishment of offenders, while victims are left to find their personal
remedies in private tort actions.
Recent dissatisfaction with this modern
dichotomy began with English penal reformer Margery Fry, who in 1955 called '
for the establishment of more effective remedies for crime victims.
The first contemporary jurisdiction to set up a crime victim compensation
program was New Zealand, which did so in late 1963.
Great Britain followed
suit in 1964, and since then several other British Commonwealth and European
countries have adopted such legislation.
The first State in this country to
establish a victim compensation program was California in 1965.
time a t least 3 0 States and the Virgin Islands have adopted programs
providing for some form of governmental compensation for crime victims:
(1967) ; Massachusetts
California (1965) ; New York
Maryland (1968); Virgin Islands (1968) ; New Jersey
(1971) ; Alaska
Illinois (1973) ; Washington (1973) ; Minnesota (1974) ; Delaware (1975) ; North
Dakota (1975) ; Ohio (1975) ; Kentucky (1976) ; Michigan
(1976) ; Pennsylvania
(1976) ; Tennessee (1976) ; Virginia (1976) ; Wisconsin (1976) ; Montana
Oregon (1977) ; Kansas (1978) ; Indiana (1978) ; Connecticut
(1979) ; Nebraska
(1979) ; Texas (1979) ; Colorado (1981);. New Mexico
(1981) ; Oklahoma
West Virginia (1981); and the District of Columbia (1982).
Rhode Island has
passed a law which will establish a program
if Federal funding becomes
available. Nevada and Georgia have "Good Samaritan" programs which award
compensation to victims only if they are injured while attempting to prevent
Many States are facing serious budgetary problems and are finding
it difficult to continue to fund, or to start to fund, victim
For instance, the Washington program is not providing compensation
to individuals injured on or after July 1 , 1981.
Proponents of governmental compensation for crime victims base their
arguments on various rationale.
One justification is "society's failure to
This theory holds that when an individual has been injured by a
criminal act, society has failed to carry out its responsibility to protect
Since civilized society forbids a person to take the law into
one's own hands and seek private vengeance, it should compensate that person
when i t has failed to protect.
A second rationale behind crime victim
compensation programs is the- n e e d to combat the individual citizen's sense of
alienation and anger at society and to encourage citizen participation with
law enforcement agencies.
Finally, proponents argue that if there i s a
Federal interest i n helping States to prevent crime, to apprehend, try, and
imprison criminals, and to house and facilitate the rehabilitation of
prisoners, then there should also be a Federal interest i n helping 'states' to
assist the victims of those criminals.
Opponents of Federal assistance to State victim
argue first that although compensating crime victims can be a legitimate
governmental activity, such programs are essentially charitable i n nature and
not the result of any absolute _governmental liability to its citizens.
Second, since the ~ e d e r a l Government has no responsibzlity
enforcement of a State's criminal laws, it therefore has no responsibility
for compensating its victims.
And third, opponents are also concerned about
the long-range costs of such a program.
No precise estimate is available,
but Congressional Budget Office projections estimated that the cost to the
Federal Government in outlays would be $8 million i n FY80, and $13 million,
$16 million, $17 million and' $18 million in fiscal years 1981 through 1984,
respectively. The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration issued a report
couid range from $144
concluding that total costs for a nationai program
million to $261 million.
Legislative activity in this area until recently centerell in the Senate.
Since the 92d Congress, the Senate has passed victim compensation legislation
on seven separate occasions. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal
Justice held hearings in the 94th Congress, and a bill
favorably repQrted by the full committee (H.Rept. 94-1550),
but no further
action was taken.
similar to that approved .by the House
Judiciary Committee i n the 94th Congress was passed by both the House and the
Senate in the 95th Congress (H.R. 7010), but the bill died when the House
failed to agree to the conference report.
In the 96th Congress, legislation was introduced by Senator Kennedy, then
Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and by Representative Rodino,
Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee
mark-up of H.R. 1899 by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice,
a clean bill (H.R. 4257) was introduced and favorably reported, amended, by
the full Judiciary Committee on Feb. 1 3 , 1980 (H.Rept. 96-753).
S. 190 and H.R. 4257 a s reported were substantially similar.
have provided for grants to qualifying State victim compensation programs in
an amount equal to 25% of the cost of compensating victims of State offenses
and 100% of the cost of compensating victims of Federal offenses.
would have provided
funds for administrative costs and certain other
The maximum award to any one victim or his dependents that would
have been federally reimbursable under the Senate bill would have been
$35,000; the maximum reimbursable award under the House bill would have been
The Senate bill would have required that States could not base
eligibility for compensation on the financial means of the claimant; the
House version had no such requirement.
The House bill would have required
States to set up escrow accounts to benefit victims of crime from book
royalties and similar profits accruing to criminals; the Senate bill had no
Authorized appropriations under the Senate bill would have
been $30 million for FY80, $40 million for FY81, and $50 million
The House bill would have authorized $15 million for FY80, $25 million for
FY81, and $35 million for FY82. The Carter Administration indicated that it
did not support the legislation because of budgetary considerations.
In the 97th Congress, Chairman
compensation legislation (H.R. 2855).
Rodino has again introduced victim
This bill would provide grants for
qualifying State programs in an amount equal to 50% of the cost of
compensating victims of State offenses and 100% of the cost of compensating
victims of Federal offenses.
The maximum award to any one claimant that
would be federally reimbursable is $50,000.
Authorized appropriations would
be $15 million for FY82, $25 million for FY83, and $35 million for FY84.
29, 1 9 8 1 ,
Companion legislation (S. 1046) was introduced in the Senate Apr.
by Senator SaSSer and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. This bill
i s identical to H.R. 2855.
Three other bills (H.R. 2284, H.R. 2776, and H.R.
6057) also would help States provide assistance to victims of crime.
Two related bills (S. 2420 and S.
2433) provide respectively that the
defendant pay restitution of a violent crime committed .in a Federal
jurisdiction, and that a Victim Compensation Fufid be established and
administered by a Victim Compensation'Board which would
be located i n the
Department of Justice.
S. 2420, the Omnibus Victims Protection Act of. 1 9 8 2 ,
which provides for the payment of restitution and for the revocation of bail
under certain circumstances and requires a sentencing report to include a
"victim impact statementv' was signed into law on Oct. 1 2 , 1982 (P.L. 97-291).
Title I1 of S. 2572, introduced by Senator Thurmond on May
26, 1982, i s
similar to S. 2420.
S. 2572 passed the Senate on Sept.
3 0 , 1982, as a n
amendment to H.R. 3963, the Contract Services for Federal Drug Depenclent
Offenders Act of 1978. The Victim-Witness Protection provisions were deleted
from the final version of H.R. 3963 which was passed by both chambers on Dec.
20, 1982. The President vetoed the bill on Jan. 1 4 , 1983.
Two other bills
(H.R. 6115 and H.R. 6448) would have amended the Internal Revenue Code of
1954 to provide that the excise tax on handguns be transferred to a trust
fund to be used for purposes of providing compensation to victims of crime.
President Ronald Reagan on Apr. 1 5 , 1982 announced the creation of a task
force to examine the problems encountered by victims of crime.
report of the Presidents' Task Force on Victims of Crime was released o n De.
In the 98th Congress bills that would provide compensation to
crime have been introduced.
On Mar. 8 , 1983 Senator Heinz introduced S. 704 the Federal Crime Victims
The bill would establish a victims compensation fund and
would provide financial support for Federal and State victims and witness
In the House, Representative Russo introduced H.R.
2470, which provides that the-excise tax from handguns be transferred to a
trust fund to be used for providing compensation to victims of crime, and
H.R. 2661, the Federal Criminal Victims and Witnesses Assistance Act which
would establish a Victims Compensation Commission in the Department of
On June 3 0 , , 1 9 8 3 Mr. Rodino introduced the Victims of Crime Act of
1983, which authorizes the Attorney General to make grants to States for
support of victim assistance programs.
6 , 1983 Senator Specter
introduced S. 1941 which establishes a crime victim's assistance fund to
provide Federal assistance to State and local programs to aid juvenile and
adult victims of crime. The 1st session of the 98th Congress ended with no
action having been taken on these bills.
Hearings began on several victims'
bills on Feb. 2 , 1984 in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal
The Administration's victims' bill, S. 2423 was introduced on Mar.
1 3 , 1984 and referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
H.R. 2 4 7 0 (RUSSO)
Federal Victims Compensation Trust Fund amends the Internal Revenue Code
of 1954 to provide that the excise tax from handguns will be transferred to a
trust fund to be used for providing compensation to victims of crime.
Introduced Apr. 12, 1983; referred jointly to Committees o n Judiciary and
Ways and Means.
Hearings held by the Subcommittee on Select.Revenue Measures
of Ways and Means Committee Apr. 1 8 , 1983.
H.R. 2661 (Russo)
Federal Criminal Victims and Witnesses Assistance Act.
Victims Compensation Commission in the Department of Justice.
would establish guidelines for the payment of compensation to victims of
crime. Introduced Apr. 20, 1983; referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
H.R. 3498 ('~odino)
Victims of Crime Act o f 1983. Authorizes the Attorney General to make
grants to the chief executive of each State for the financial Support of
qualified crime victim assistance programs.
Introduced June 30, 1983;
referred to Committee on the Judiciary.
Hearings began in the criminal
Justice Subcommittee Feb. 2, 1984.
S. 704 (Heinz, Grassley)/H.R. 2978 (Fish)
Federal Crime Victims Compensation Act.
assistance f-und to compensate victims of crime. Would also provide financial
support for State and Federal victims and witness assistance programs.
Introduced Mar. 8,. 1983; referred to Committee on the Judiciary.
S. 1644 (Nunn, Armstrong)
Sentencing Improvement Act of 1983.
Describes restitution ' a s a n
alternative form of punishment.
Provides that in appropriate cases the court
may, with due consideration of the defendant's resources, require him to pay
the victim's medical expenses, repay the value or cost of damaged property,
or return that property.
When no victims are ascertainable, the restitution
will be paid into a special fund of the treasury to be distributed on a
quarterly basis to State victim compensation plans.
Introduced July 20,
1983; referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
S. 1941 (Specter)
Crime Victim's Assistance Fund.
qualifying State Victim compensation programs and to victim and witness
Establishes in the U.S. Treasury a revolving fund to be
administered by the Attorney General and to be known a s the Crime Victim's
Introduced Oct. 6 , 1983; referred to the Committee on the
S. 2423 (Thurmond, by request)/H.R. 5124 (Fish, by request)
Victims of Crime Assistance Act of 1984. Establishes a crime victims'
assistance fund in the U.S. Treasury comprised of all criminal fines paid to
the United States and certain profits stemming from literary, Visual, or
audio productions relating to Federal crimes.
Empowers Federal courts to
order forfeiture of such profits.
Permits victims to make impact statements
at Parole Commission hearings.
Introduced Mar. 1 3 , 1984; referred to the
Committee on the Judiciary.
House- Committee on the Judiciary. Subcommittee
on Criminal Justice. Compensating crime victims.
96th Congress, 1st session, on H.R. 1899. Washington, U.S.
Govt. Print. Off., 1980. 228 p.
Hearings held Feb. 28 and Apr. 3 , 1979.
Crime victim compensation. Hearings,
94th Congress, 26 session. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print.
Off., 1976. 1285 p.
Hearings held Nov. 4 , 18; Dec. 9 , 1 5 , 1975; Feb. 7 , 1 3 ,
and 2 7 , 1976.
Victims of crime. Hearing, 9 3 6 Congress, 1st session,
on H.R. 8777 and S. 300. Aug. 1 , 1973. i W a s h i n g t o n , U.S.
Govt. Print. Off., 1973. 1 0 8 p.
"Serial no. 13"
Victims of crime compensation. Hearings, 95th Congress,
1st session, on H.R. 7010 and related bills.
Mar. 2 9 ,
Apr. 22, 25 and 2 7 , and May 5 , 1977. Washington, U.S. Govt.
Print. Off., 1979.
Committee on the JUDICIARY.
Criminal Law. Omnibus Victim Protection Act.
Congress, 26 session, on S. 2420. May 27, 1982. Washington,
U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1982. 1 9 2 p.
on Criminal Laws and Procedures.
Victims of crime.
Hearings, 92d Congress, 1st session. Washington, U.S.
Govt. Print. Off., 1972. 1 1 2 p.
Hearings held Sept. 29; Nov. 30, 1971; and Mar. 2 7 , 1972.
REPORTS AND CONGRESSIONAL DOCUMENTS.
Congress. Conference Committee.
Victims of Crime Act of
1978; conference report to accompany H.R. 7010. Washington,
U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1978. 15 p.
(95th Congress, 2d session.
House. Report no. 95-1762).
Congress. House. Committee on the Judiciary.
Victims of Crime Act of 1976; report to accompany H.R. 13157.
Washington, U.S Govt. Print. Off., 1976. 2 0 p.
2 6 session. House. Report no. 94-1550).
Victims of Crime Act of 1977; report to accompany H.R. 7010.
Washington', U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1977. 1 8 p.
Congress, 1st session. House. Report no. 95-337).
=Vi-c-tkms of -Crime Actr*of -1-9797r e p o r t -together with
dissenting, separate dissenting, and separate views
to accompany H.R. 4257. Washington, U.S. Govt.
Print. Off., 1980. 18 p.
Report no. 96-753)
(96th Congress, 26 session.
Senate. Committee on the Judiciary.
Victims Protection Act of 1982; report to accompany S. 2420.
Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1982. 45 p.
Senate. Report no. 97-532).
Committee on the Judiciary.
Criminal Code Reform Act of 1977; report to accompany
S. 1437. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1977.
(95th Congress, 1st session.
Victims of Crime Act of 1978; report to accompany
Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1978.
1 8 p.
(95th Congress, 26 session.
Senate. Report no. 95-963)
Victims of Crime Act of 1973; report together with
additional views to accompany S. 300.
Print. Off., 1973. 27 p.
(936 Congress, 1st session.
Report no. 93-83)
OTHER CONGRESSIONAL ACTION
CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS
A Federal judge in Birmingham, Alabama declared the
victim restitution provision of the Federal Victim Witness
Protection Act of 1982 (P.L. 97-291) unconstitutional.
Lois Haight Herrington, Assistant Attorney General for Justice
Assistance, created an Office for Victims of Crime in the
Office of Justice Assistance, Research, and Statistics.
Attorney General William French Smith promulgated Federal
guidelines concerning the treqtment of crime victims and
witnesses by Department of Justice investigators and
12/31/82 -.- President's task force on violent crime issued its final
Omnibus Victims Protection Act signed into law
President ~ e a g a nannounced that he was creating a
special task force to examine the problems
encountered by victims of crime.
House Judiciary committee favorably reported
H.R. 4275-,-Victims- of - Crime Act of 1979:
Senate adopted conference.rep0rt on H.R.
House failed to agree to the conference report.
7010 passed by the ~ o u s e .
7010 passed by the Senate after amending it to
contain the language of S. 551.
ADDITIONAL REFERENCE SOURCES
Public compensation to victims
Edelhertz, Herbert, and Gilbert Geis.
of crime. New York, Praeger, 1974.
Paul L. Sutton. Compensating victims
of violent crime: potential costs and coverage of a
[washington] U.S. National
Criminal Justice Information and Statistics Service,
1977. 41 p.
Lamborn, LeRoy L.
The propriety of governmental compensation of
victims of crime. George Washington law review, v . 4 1 ,
March 1973: 446-470.
Marcus, Marvin, and others.
Victim compensation and offender
restitution; a selected bibliography.
U.S. National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal
Justice, 1975. 29 p.
Mueller, Gerhard 0 . W., and H. H. A. Cooper.
society, and the victim. Washington, U.S. Law
Enforcement Assistance Administration, [1973?]. 19 p.
Selected Topic Digest (STD), Number 2.
National Association of Attorneys General. Committee on the
Office of Attorney General. Legal issues i n compensating victims
of violent crimes.
[ ~ a l e i g h ,N.C.]
May 1976. 5 3 p.
part I: compensation and
Aid to the victim
Crime and delinquency literature, v. 8,
September 1976: 368-389.
Schafer, Stephen. Compensation and restitution to victims of
crime. Montclair, N.J., Patterson Smith, 1970.
Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service.
Compensation for victims of crime: a selected bibliography
1969-1972 [by] Nancy Davenport, Oct. 20, 1972.
1972. 1 0 p.
CRS Report 72-219 L
Compensation for victims of crime: a selected bibliography
1973-1980 [by] Barbara McClure and Margaret Seiler, Sept. 2 5 , 1980.
[washington] 1980. 8 p.
- C R S Report -80-174-EPW .
considerations for policy makers.
W a s h i n g t o n , V i c t i m / W i t n e s s A s s i s t a n c e P r o j e c t , S e c t i o n of
8 1 p.
C r i m i n a l J u s t i c e , A m e r i c a n B a r A s s o c i a t i o n , 1981.