April 4, 2023

No Rights Without Remedies for Crime Victims

Meg Garvin, MA, JD, Mst
Executive Director

Recently the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled that crime victims have no remedy for violations of their rights under the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), 18 U.S.C § 3771. A decision which is being challenged.

In the case, the U.S. Department of Justice had negotiated and entered a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with Boeing concerning its criminal conduct that led to two crashes in which 346 people died. This DPA was entered without involvement of the families of those killed despite the victims’ rights in the CVRA to reasonably right to confer with the attorney for the Government; to be treated with fairness and respect; and to be timely informed of any deferred prosecution agreement.

Notably, the U.S. District Court ruled that the families were legal victims and that their rights were violated. It went on to conclude, however, that it could afford no remedy.

When Congress passed the CVRA it was clear – the law was designed to remedy the poor treatment victims had been receiving and to ensure they could be active participants in criminal justice.

In fact, when explaining why the CVRA was needed, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D. CA), one of the lead sponsors stated, “In case after case we found victims, and their families, were ignored, cast aside, and treated as non-participants in a critical event in their lives.”

The District Court’s decision not only flies in the face of the plain language of the statute but fundamentally undermines its purpose.

Fortunately, Professor Paul Cassell is representing some of the families and is seeking further review in the Fifth Circuit.

In NCVLI’s supportive amicus curiae brief we argued that the district court abdicated its CVRA mandated duty to ensure rights are afforded; that it trivializes the victims’ right and role; and erred in failing to exercise its authority and order a remedy.

The CVRA and state equivalents were not passed to be empty promises.

When courts can deny a remedy when a right has been violated. it is fair to question whether it is in fact a right. We must fight until the legal maxim -“where there is a legal right, there is also a legal remedy . . . .” Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137, 163 (1803)–applies to victims.