Massachusetts law about victims and witnesses of crimes

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases and web sources on legal issues for victims or witnesses of crimes

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Table of Contents

Best bet

Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance,
MOVA upholds and advances the rights of crime victims and witnesses by providing outreach and education, policy advocacy, policy and program development, legislative advocacy, grants management, and service referrals.

Office for Victims of Crimes, US Department of Justice.
A resource put out by the United States Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crimes.

Victim assistance,
From referrals to court advocacy and more, learn how Massachusetts can help you or your family members if you're a victim of a crime.

Massachusetts laws

MGL c.6, § 178A Right of victim of crime, witness or family member of homicide victim to obtain criminal offender record information of person accused or convicted; disclosure of other information by criminal justice agencies

MGL c.10, § 66 Victims of drunk driving fund

MGL c.12, § 11K Crime victim compensation division

MGL c.233, § 20 Competency of witnesses; husband and wife; criminal defendant; parent and child 

MGL c.258B Rights of victims and witnesses of crime

MGL c.258C Victim compensation

MGL c.263A Witness protection

MGL c.268, § 13B Intimidation of witness, jurors and persons furnishing information in connection with criminal proceedings

Massachusetts regulations

120 CMR 400 Victim input and notification of parole hearings and decisions

120 CMR 401 Victim access hearings

803 CMR 9 Victim notification registry

940 CMR 14 Compensation of victims of violent crimes

Federal laws

18 USC § 3771 Crime victims' rights 

18 USC § 3772 Sexual assault survivors' rights 

34 USC § 201 Victim rights, compensation, and assistance

Selected case law

A brief history of Supreme Court Cases regarding victim impact statements and the Eight Amendment.

Booth v. Maryland, 482 U.S. 496 (1987)
The U.S. Supreme Court decided in Booth v. Maryland that the Eighth Amendment prohibits a sentencing jury in a death penalty case from considering victim impact evidence that does not directly relate to the circumstances of the crime including statements regarding opinions about the crime, the defendant, and the appropriate punishment.

Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808 (1991)
The U.S Supreme Court held in Payne v. Tennessee that testimony in the form of a victim impact statements involving “the emotional impact of the crimes on the victim’s family” are admissible during the sentencing phase of a trial and, in death penalty cases, do not violate the Eighth Amendment.

Bosse v. Oklahoma, 580 U.S. ___ (2016)
The U.S Supreme Court clarified in Bosse v. Oklahoma that Payne v. Tennessee did not completely overrule Booth v. Maryland, and that victim impact statements including opinions on appropriate punishment are still in violation of the Eight Amendment.

Commonwealth v. McGonagle, 478 Mass. 675 (2018)
"We all stand equal before the bar of justice, and it is neither cruel nor unusual or irrational, nor is it violative of a defendant's due process guarantees, for a judge to listen with intensity to the perspective of a crime victim" when making a sentencing decision.

Commonwealth v. Rand, 487 Mass. 811 (2021)
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that statements a victim made to a 911 operator were nontestimonial in nature and could be used as evidence and their usage as such did not violate Rand's confrontation rights.

Commonwealth v. Potter, 39 Mass. App. Ct. 924 (1995)
Intimidation of witness.

Commonwealth v. Torres, 479 Mass. 641 (2018)
Victim compensation records are  subject to normal discovery rules for confidential, third-party records.

Web sources

The aftermath of crime guidebook,  Mass. Office of Victim Assistance.
This comprehensive (136-page) guide covers: Trauma and the Healing Process, Seeking Justice through the Criminal Justice System, Victims and the Prosecution Process, Post Disposition Services for Victims, Financial Remedies for Victims of Crimes, and information for advocates.

CLAVC: Civil Legal Aid for Victims of Crime
"Do you have legal problems as a result of this crime — such as a need for a divorce or child support, getting your credit fixed, a housing eviction or problems getting disability or other public benefits?...Contact the CLAVC legal aid program that serves your town to apply for free legal help today."

Massachusetts guide to evidence: Article VI witnesses, Supreme Judicial Court’s Advisory Committee on Massachusetts Evidence Law.
The purpose of the Massachusetts Guide to Evidence is to make the law of evidence more accessible and understandable to the bench, bar, and public.”

Massachusetts victims of violent crime compensation, Attorney General. 
If you, a family member or a loved one has been the victim of a violent crime, you can fill out an application with the Victim Compensation Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office.

Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.
"OVC administers the Crime Victims Fund (the Fund), which is financed by fines and penalties paid by convicted federal offenders, not from tax dollars. Federal revenues deposited into the Fund also come from gifts, donations, and bequests by private parties. OVC channels funding for victim compensation and assistance throughout the United States, raises awareness about victims’ issues, promotes compliance with victims’ rights laws, and provides training and technical assistance and publications and products to victim assistance professionals."

Representing victims of human trafficking in Massachusetts: a guide for attorneys, Rachel Bier, James Bor-Zale, Elizabeth Mooney, and Stephanie Neely of Wilmerhale and Betsy Byra and Julie Dahlstrom of Boston University School of Law Immigrants' Rights and Human Trafficking Program, 2020.

Victim Rights Law Center
"The Victim Rights Law Center provides free, comprehensive legal services for sexual assault victims with legal issues in Massachusetts and Oregon in the areas of privacy, safety, housing, education, employment, immigration, and financial stability."

Victim-witness reference manual, Mass. District Attorneys Ass'n., 2010. 
"Victim-witness advocates are professionals trained to support crime victims and witnesses. ... Advocates have a duty to make sure that victims and witness get what they are entitled to. Advocates also must ensure that all victims and witnesses are treated with compassion, dignity and fairness." This lengthy (over 200-page) guide provides everything an advocate might need to know.

Print sources

Crime victim's guide to justice, Sphinx, 2008.
The victim of the criminal justice system -- Getting help -- Understanding criminal law -- The police -- Charging the crime -- Pretrial procedures -- Plea bargaining -- Criminal trial -- After the trial -- Victim privacy in the criminal justice system -- Recovering your losses -- The civil lawsuit -- The role of lawyers.

Impeaching a witness on cross-examination in a criminal trial: the 60-minute lawyer, MCLE, 2020.

Tort law, 3rd edition (Mass. Practice, v.37)Thomson/West Group, 2005 with supplement.
Section 1.5 Victims of violent crimes.

Special witnesses at criminal trials, MCLE, 2009.
Section 1. Representing witnesses who want to take the "Fifth" -- Section 2. Sample motions regarding child witnesses -- Section 3. "Cooperating" government witnesses: immunized witnesses, snitches, informants, and "hopeful" witnesses -- Section 4. Sample motions and memoranda regarding jailhouse informants -- Section 5. Cross-examination.

Witness preparation in criminal trials, MCLE, 2014.


Last updated: March 10, 2023

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