Guide to the Law for Victims of Crime in California

Female crime victim

If you or someone you know is a victim of a crime, or someone has threatened to harm you or otherwise commit a crime against you, you have the following rights in California. But keep in mind that you may need to be proactive in exercising your rights as a victim.

Start here to report a crime in California. See below for information about getting a restraining order against the perpetrator. You may also need to contact and follow up with your local chief prosecutor, usually called the “District Attorney” (abbreviated “D.A.” or “DA”),” or if it’s a federal crime, the local United States Attorney or “U.S. Attorney.”

You should maintain good records of the details of what happened, and (safely) collect and maintain any evidence of the crime, including communications such as phone records, emails, texts, etc.

For victim support services, including possibly compensation, you can find your local resources here.

In addition you may be able to sue the perpetrator in civil court, with the help of a personal injury lawyer. See our Guide to Civil Law vs Criminal Law.

Note: Call 911 if you are in immediate danger or if a life-threatening crime has just occurred

1. Right to protection

What if the police are not helping me or taking me seriously?

Police have a responsibility to protect you from valid threats of crime, and investigate any valid reports of a crime. If they don’t, you may be able to sue the police or have the federal government prosecute the police for failing to do their duty, especially if due to discrimination.1This is called “Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law,” and is found in Title 18 of U.S. Code, Section 242

2. Victims’ Bill of Rights

If you are a victim of a crime under state or local law (which includes most crimes) in California, you have the following rights:2Marsy’s Law, found in the California Constitution article I, § 28, section (b)

  • To be treated with fairness and respect for your privacy and dignity, and to be free from intimidation, harassment, and abuse, throughout the criminal or juvenile justice process.
  • To be reasonably protected from the defendant and anyone acting on behalf of the defendant.
  • To have your safety and your family’s safety considered in fixing the amount of bail and release conditions for the defendant.
  • To prevent the disclosure of confidential information or records to the defendant, the defendant’s attorney, or any other person acting on behalf of the defendant, which could be used to locate or harass the victim or the victim’s family or which disclose confidential communications made in the course of medical or counseling treatment, or which are otherwise privileged or confidential by law.
  • To refuse an interview, deposition, or other information request by the defendant’s attorney, or any other person acting on behalf of the defendant, and to set reasonable conditions on the conduct of any such interview which you do agree to do.
  • Notice of arrest of defendant and to confer with prosecution. To reasonable notice of and to reasonably confer with the prosecuting agency, upon request, regarding the arrest of the defendant if known by the prosecutor, the charges filed, the determination whether to extradite the defendant, and, upon request, to be notified of and informed before any pretrial disposition of the case.
  • To reasonable notice of all public proceedings, including delinquency proceedings, upon request, at which the defendant and the prosecutor are entitled to be present and of all parole or other post-conviction release proceedings, and to be present at all such proceedings.
  • To be heard, upon request, at any proceeding, including any delinquency proceeding, involving a post-arrest release decision, plea, sentencing, post-conviction release decision, or any proceeding in which any of your rights are at issue
  • To a speedy trial and a prompt and final conclusion of the case and any related post-judgment proceedings.
  • Sentencing/Probation
    • Informing officials of impact of offense. To provide information to a probation department official conducting a pre-sentence investigation concerning the impact of the offense on you or your family and any sentencing recommendations before the sentencing of the defendant.
    • To receive, upon request, the pre-sentence report when available to the defendant, except for those portions made confidential by law.
  • Notice of case status, including release or escape of defendant. To be informed, upon request, of the conviction, sentence, place and time of incarceration, or other disposition of the defendant, the scheduled release date of the defendant, and the release of or the escape by the defendant from custody.
  • Compensation or return of property from defendant
    • You have the right to seek and secure “restitution” from the persons convicted of the crimes causing the losses they suffer.
    • Restitution shall be ordered from the convicted wrongdoer in every case, regardless of the sentence or disposition imposed, in which a crime victim suffers a loss.
    • All monetary payments and property collected from any person who has been ordered to make restitution shall be first applied to pay the amounts ordered as restitution to the victim.
  • To the prompt return of property used as evidence in the case when prosecution no longer needs it as evidence.
  • Parole/post-sentencing
    • To be informed of all parole procedures, to participate in the parole process, to provide information to the parole authority to be considered before the parole of the offender, and to be notified, upon request, of the parole or other release of the offender.
    • To have your safety, your family’s safety, and the general public considered before any parole or other post-judgment release decision is made.
  • To be informed of these rights.

If you are a victim of a federal crime, see here.

3. Definition of Victim

The legal definition of a victim is “a person who suffers direct or threatened physical, psychological, or financial harm as a result of the commission or attempted commission of a crime or delinquent act.”

The term ‘victim’ also includes the person’s spouse, parents, children, siblings, or guardian, and includes a lawful representative of a crime victim who is deceased, a minor, or physically or psychologically incapacitated.3Cal. Const., art. I, § 28(e)

The term ‘victim’ does NOT include a person in custody for an offense, or a person whom the court finds would not act in the best interests of a minor victim.

4. Restraining Orders

How can I obtain a restraining order?

You can request a Restraining Order against a person who hurt you or threatened to hurt you, or other family members, at the nearest Superior Court. You can request a Restraining Order whether or not an arrest has been made or the police have been called. A Domestic Violence Restraining Order is always free. In many courts, free legal assistance is available or you can represent yourself.

Steps to obtain a restraining order:

1. Emergency Protection Orders (if necessary) are available through the Police Department on a 24-hour basis, and are valid for only 5 court days.

2. Request a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) at the nearest Superior Court. Your TRO should be granted the same or next day.

3. Serve the perpetrator (called the “defendant”) with a copy of the TRO. (Anyone over 18 years of age, except you, can hand the TRO to the defendant.)

4. Deliver a copy of the TRO, Proof of Service, and Law Enforcement Information form to your local police station. Retain the originals of all documents.

5. You must return to court in about 3 weeks to obtain an order that is valid for 3 years. This order must also be served to the defendant and copies delivered to the police station.

5. Hate crimes

You have the right to protection against “hate crimes” where an attacker uses (or attempts to use) a deadly weapon and the attack was motivated by your actual or perceived race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.4U.S. Code, Title 18, Section 249

6. Potential to sue perpetrator

Often the victim of a crime may also be able to sue the alleged perpetrator in civil court (as opposed to criminal court) and possibly get monetary compensation from the perpetrator. See a personal injury attorney for assistance.

7. Deadlines for prosecuting assailant

Though it varies by state and by type of crime, there are usually deadlines for prosecuting a person for committing a crime. These deadlines are called the “statute of limitations.” For example, in California, many crimes such as assault and battery must be prosecuted within 1 or 2 years or the assailant will essentially get away with it. Here are the deadlines for prosecuting crimes in California. Murder is one of the few crimes which never has a deadline for prosecuting.

Domestic violence related crimes must be prosecuted within 5 years.5SB 273

For sex crimes, see our Guide to Laws about Sex.

8. Citizens arrest

Can I make a citizen’s arrest in California?

In California, any person (not just citizens) may make a citizen’s arrest in any of the following situations:6California Penal Code Sec 837

  1. A “public offense” committed or attempted in your presence.
  2. When the person arrested has committed a felony, although not in your presence.
  3. When a felony has been in fact committed, and you have reasonable cause for believing the person arrested to have committed it.

Public offense includes essentially any crime, including a felony, misdemeanor, or infraction.7“People v. Landis”. Appellate Division, Superior Court, Orange County. Public offenses” include infractions. (Pen.Code § 16; People v. Tennessee (1970) 4 Cal.App.3d 788, 791, 84 Cal.Rptr. 697.

But keep in mind that it is risky to get involved in such an arrest. The suspect will likely not submit willingly, and could subject you to violence. Also, if you are wrong and the suspect did not commit a crime, you could be sued or arrested for false arrest or false imprisonment.

Can I use force in making a citizen’s arrest?

In general, it is legal to use non-deadly force to carry out a valid citizen’s arrest if you reasonably believe that: (1) the suspect is committing a felony, or a misdemeanor amounting to a breach of the peace; and (2) the force used is necessary to prevent further commission of the offense and to apprehend the offender.


Exercise Your Rights

Related Pages

Accused of Crime

Harassment Law

See all Legal Guides

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