Criminal Justice & Victim Compensation

For crime victims, navigating the criminal justice system can be challenging. You may interact with different agencies at different times from the time the crime is committed through arrest, trial, sentencing and incarceration.

Some of the most common questions MOVA receives and answers from victims of crime are:

“What rights do I have as a victim/witness in a criminal case?”

In order to provide victims of crime with a meaningful role in the criminal justice system, Massachusetts Law (M.G.L. chapter 258B) provides certain basic rights to victims and witnesses. The Massachusetts Victims Bill of Rights brochure is available in multiple languages at: http://www.mass.gov/mova/advocacy-assistance/resources/

To see the full Massachusetts Victims Bill of Rights: http://www.malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartIII/TitleIV/Chapter258B/Section3

“How do I know which court will be trying the case in which I am the victim / witness?”

In Massachusetts, there are many types of courts; Superior Court, District Court, Boston Municipal Court, Probate and Family Court, Juvenile Court, Housing Court, among others. Generally, criminal matters are handled by the Superior, District, and Boston Municipal Courts. The type of crime, length of sentence, and age of offender will determine which court handles the case.

“I was victimized by a juvenile who was arrested. What happens now? Where do juveniles go when they are sentenced?”

Massachusetts has a separate juvenile court system for young offenders. Juvenile cases are prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office. To find which District Attorney’s office may be handling your case, you can use this link: http://www.mass.gov/mdaa/district-attorneys/

To find information about the Department of Youth Services (DYS), visit http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dys/programs-and-services/victim-services/frequently-asked-questions.html

To ask specific questions about a case in which you are the victim, you can contact the Department of Youth Services Victim Services Unit at 617-960-3290; all of their services are free. http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dys/programs-and-services/victim-services/victim-notification.html

In Massachusetts, there are two types of adult trial courts that hear criminal cases: the Superior Courts and the District Courts; In Boston, the District Courts are called Municipal Courts. There are also two types of facilities that incarcerate adults: state prisons and county houses of correction. One of the determining factors of where a case will be heard is determined by the maximum possible sentence for the crime.

Massachusetts District Courts (and Boston Municipal Courts) have jurisdiction over crimes where the maximum possible sentence will not exceed two-and-one-half-years for a single offense in a county house of correction.

Massachusetts Superior Courts have jurisdiction over crimes with a sentence to state prison for any term of years up to and including life in state prison. If a crime can be punished only by a sentence to state prison, it must be tried in the Massachusetts Superior Court.

“The offender just got arrested. What happens next?”
“I am the victim/witness in a criminal case. Who can answer my questions about the case? “

The District Attorney is an elected official and employs a staff of Assistant District Attorneys (ADA) and Victim Witness Advocates (VWA). If a case is brought against the offender in criminal court, the District Attorney's office will prosecute the case and you may be assigned a Victim Witness Advocate. To find your Victim Witness Advocate, call the County District Attorney’s office where the crime occurred. To find which District Attorney’s office may be handling your case, you can use this link: http://www.mass.gov/mdaa/district-attorneys/ .

“How do I get certified to receive information about the offender in my case?”

Victims and witnesses have certain rights to information about the offender(s) charged with a crime against them. Offender information may be held by several different government agencies and it is important victims and witnesses get certified to gain access to this information. Massachusetts Criminal Offender Record Information Act (CORI) (MGL c.6, s. 167-178B) defines who may receive information about an offender. Under the CORI Act, victims must be certified to receive information about an offender and to be notified when the offender is released. The CORI Act specifically controls access to this information by victims and witnesses (MGL c.6, s.178A: Access by victims and witnesses).

Visit the MA Department of Criminal Justice Information Services website for more information about the CORI Act.

“Which prison is the offender in? Is the offender in a county house of correction? When will the offender be released?”

Probation: Sometimes referred to as community supervision, probation affords the offender an opportunity to remain in the community with specific conditions instead of being sentenced to prison or the house of correction. A probation officer will be assigned to monitor the offender during probation. If you are the victim the supervising probation officer may contact you to discuss your questions and concerns. Contact may be by email, letter or phone call at your request. If you have questions or concerns about the offender’s probation status you may contact the probation department or the District Attorney’s Office that prosecuted the offender. For more information about probation visit: http://www.mass.gov/courts/court-info/probation/mass-probation-serv-gen.html

County Jail: For more information about an offender being housed in a county house of corrections, please check: http://www.mass.gov/msa/sheriffs/complete-listing.html. Some county houses of corrections have Victim Services Units.

State Prison: For more information about an offender being held in state prison, contact the Massachusetts Department of Corrections (DOC) Victim Services Unit. They can answer questions regarding the placement and status of an inmate who has been found guilty and is currently serving a state prison sentence. To ask questions, contact: http://www.mass.gov/doc 617-727-3300 (DOC) 1-866-6VICTIM (VSU)

“What do I have to do to get notified when an offender is released from jail?”

Your Victim Witness Advocate, or one in the District Attorney’s Office that prosecuted the offender, can assist in submitting an application to the Department of Criminal Justice Information Services (DCJIS) Victim Services Unit*. (See,* How to become certified to receive Criminal History Information) If you wish to be notified in advance when an offender is going to be released from a Massachusetts prison or a Massachusetts house of correction (County jail), the Massachusetts Department of CJIS VSU may also certify you and your access to additional CORI documents. Contact them at: 617-660-4690 TTY: 617-660-4606 Fax: 617-660-5973 E-mail: vnr.info@state.ma.us

The Massachusetts Parole Board Victim Services Unit answers questions regarding the parole process. A Victim Service Coordinator is assigned to each parole office in the state to provide victims with information about the parole process, notifications of upcoming hearings and parole release decisions. Coordinators accompany victims and their family members to parole hearings when victim attendance and participation are allowed. Visit: http://www.mass.gov/eopss/agencies/parole-board/ Toll-free Victim's Line: 1-888-298-6272 or 508-650-4543.

“How do I find out if someone is registered as a sex offender?”

The Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB) is a public safety agency responsible for determining if persons convicted or adjudicated of sex offenses are living, working, or attending an institution of higher learning in Massachusetts have a duty to register. If so, the SORB is responsible for assessing the risk of re-offense and the degree of danger sex offenders pose to the public. The SORB has a Victim Services Unit (VSU) to provide victims with assistance, information and notification as the offender progresses through the registration and classification processes. The VSU assists victims with writing impact statements and also provides support, safety planning, crisis intervention, and referrals for resources, as needed.

http://www.mass.gov/sorb Call: 978-740-6440 or 1-800-936-3426

If you are a victim or witness in a Federal case being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts and you would like assistance or have questions, call the U.S. Attorney’s Office and ask for the Victim Witness Specialist assigned to the case. Call 617-748-3100 or email usama.victimassistance@usdoj.gov http://www.justice.gov/usao-ma. Fax: (617) 223-6327 E-mail: Boston@ic.fbi.gov

http://www.justice.gov/usao-ma/report-federal-crime

There are many victim/witness staff members within the criminal justice system charged with helping crime victims answer these questions and navigate the system. The Aftermath of Crime Guidebook is also a good resource in helping you to understand victim rights and services in Massachusetts. It provides crucial information for victims and their advocates and is designed to guide you through the mental health and legal impact of crime

To locate free services near you, use our Find Help Near You service or call the victim services coordinator at MOVA at (844)-878-MOVA (6682) during regular business hours.