The Justice Department released revised Attorney General Guidelines for Victim and Witness Assistance. The revised guidelines update, for the first time in a decade, when and how Department employees work with victims and witnesses of crime to ensure that their voices are heard and that they are protected during criminal justice proceedings. The guidelines apply to all department employees engaged in the investigative, prosecutorial, correctional, and parole functions within the criminal justice system.
“Treating crime victims and witnesses with the dignity and respect they deserve is critical to the Justice Department’s mission. I saw that with searing clarity in my work responding to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The revised guidelines will ensure that we continue to fulfill our obligations to victims and witnesses through an approach that is victim-centered and trauma-informed.”
In 1982, Congress directed the Attorney General to promulgate the first Attorney General guidelines, which have been revised periodically to reflect changes in the law. This update improves and expands the Department’s policies for engaging with victims and witnesses of crime throughout the criminal justice process in several key ways, including:
- Expanded scope of support for those significantly harmed by crime: The revised guidelines significantly expand support for people who are significantly harmed by a crime but still may not meet the statutory definition of “victim” contained in the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA). Under the updated guidelines, Department employees should provide services or support to those people, including information, protection, consultation, and referrals for victim services, when feasible and appropriate.
- Earlier notification and consultation: Previous versions of the guidelines provided that rights guaranteed under the CVRA were only to be afford once a defendant was charged. The revised guidelines require affording those rights as early in the criminal justice process as is feasible and appropriate. The guidelines thus provide that prosecutors should, as appropriate, notify victims of plea agreements, deferred prosecution agreements, and non-prosecution agreements before a charging document is filed.
- Additional guidance regarding vulnerable populations: In order to protect the most vulnerable victims, the update strengthens reporting requirements to ensure that Justice Department personnel promptly report suspected incidents of child abuse that they discover through the course of their official duties, regardless of whether they are legally required to do so. Also included in the update are provisions addressing the specific considerations for victims who are: American Indians or Alaska Natives (AI/AN); older or living with a disability; financially vulnerable; from an underserved population; members of marginalized communities; and persons with limited or no proficiency in English
- Updates addressing technological development: Since the guidelines were last updated 10 years ago, technology has evolved dramatically. The revised guidelines provide updates throughout to address these changes, including acknowledging the different types of harm victims may experience in cyber intrusion cases and expanding the ways the Department can use technology to identify, notify, and support victims.
- Expanded Training: To ensure that Department employees are aware of the latest support and services afforded to victims, the revised guidelines expand the category of employees to receive continuous training on the guidelines to include anyone “who in the course of their duties are expected to come into contact with victims and witnesses.”
Through these additions and others, the revised guidelines will allow those affected by crime to be heard and protected throughout the criminal justice process. The guidelines will go into effect March 31, 2023.