Updated February 27, 2014
Victims often incur costs and expenses following a crime. Consider Henry, a California resident who was a victim of a robbery at gunpoint and needs medical care for his physical injuries, and mental health care for his trauma. After the robbery, he takes two weeks off of work to recover, and decides to invest in a home security system to feel safer. If the robber is caught and prosecuted, some of these costs could be reimbursed through restitution.
Restitution is a court process in which criminal defendants who have been convicted have to pay money to their victims to cover any losses or injuries the victims suffered and will suffer as a result of the crime. But if Henry’s robber is never caught, he still could recover some of his costs and losses through the state victim compensation program. Having such a program ensures that victims can still get reimbursed in situations where there isn’t a conviction, or where a defendant doesn’t have the money to pay court-ordered restitution.
If you have been a victim of a violent crime in California, you can apply to The California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP) for reimbursement for expenses and injuries you suffered as a result of the crime. There you can also find guidance (including help by phone) on what to do and how to proceed.
The California victim compensation program pays claims of people who are victims of crimes like domestic violence, assault, drunk driving, homicide, and sexual assault. The list of crimes is not exclusive, but in order to qualify, someone must have been physically injured or threatened with physical injury. Victims may be able to recover for emotional injury only, without any physical injury, if they are victims of certain crimes, like rape, child abandonment, and specific sex crimes. In addition, children who witness domestic violence are considered victims and are eligible for reimbursement and mental health treatment.
In order to qualify, a person must be a victim of a crime and have sustained injury (including death) as a result of the crime. Ordinarily, the victim must be a resident of California in order to get a payment from the state claims board. However, a non-resident may be able to get payment from the state if the crime happened within California and he or she cannot recover from a victim’s compensation program in the state where he or she resides. Federal funds must be available in order for that person to recover.
In addition to direct victims, derivative victims can also apply for compensation. Usually a derivative victim is a spouse or family member who suffered economic loss as a result of the death or injury of the victim of the crime. For example, a husband whose wife was murdered could apply to the victim compensation board for loss of income because he no longer receives his wife’s salary.
Victims can recover for a variety of expenses or losses, as long as they were unable to recover from another source. If a victim has insurance or gets restitution, then he or she can only apply for expenses or losses that weren’t already reimbursed. If a victim later collects for expenses already paid by CalVCP, then the victim may have to repay the compensation program. CalVCP will cover expenses up to $63,000, including:
In general, in order to qualify for compensation, victims have to cooperate with law enforcement. Cooperating with law enforcement usually means reporting the crime and participating in an investigation and prosecution if asked to do so. However, cooperation is not necessarily mandatory and won’t always be found necessary depending on the circumstances. For example, a minor child or a crime victim who is very worried about retaliation or future safety may not have to comply with this requirement.
A participant in the crime cannot recover for injuries from the crime and felons who are incarcerated, on probation, or on parole also cannot recover.
The application process is fairly straightforward. You fill out the application and indicate what type of reimbursement you are seeking, attach any supporting documentation, and then mail your documents to the government claims board. You generally have to apply within three years of the crime, although exceptions to this rule are made for certain sex crimes and crimes committed against minors, and if the board finds good cause to waive the deadline.
The board has to make a decision within 180 days. If it denies a claim, the applicant can request a hearing and eventually ask a court to review the decision. (You can learn more about the procedure and your options by visiting the websites listed above and below.)
Victims’ advocates are available to assist with an application, and they may not charge for doing so. Local victims’ advocates and district attorney’s offices can assist victims in applying and are available in every county in California. See Local Help for Crime Victims.
For further information on other crime victims’ rights, see Nolo's topic page on Victims’ Rights.