Rights of the victims of a crime in France
The first action to take after becoming a victim of a crime in France is to file a complaint as soon as possible, even if the perpetrator has not been identified.
This step can be achieved by (1) filing a complaint with the police/gendarmerie or the prosecutor of the Republic or (2) by filing a complaint with constitution of civil party at the court.
Filing a complaint at a police station or gendarmerie (“dépôt de plainte”)
The easiest way to report a crime is to go directly to any police station and ask to file a complaint (“déposer plainte”).
This procedure requires the presence of the victim.
The police are required by law to register any complaint received from a victim, even if the crime has not been committed in their geographical authority.
The filing process involves an interview of the victim by a police officer and the registration of their statement. It is recommended to attach to the statement any piece of evidence available (medical bills, pictures, invoices, etc.).
If physical evidence is necessary (for example, in case of violence related injuries, or sexual assault), the police will refer the victim to the legal medicine department of the nearest hospital where specialized doctors will collect physical evidence and draft a report for the investigators (i.e. DNA samples, pictures of the injuries, etc.).
Except in tourist areas, it is quite rare to find English speaking officers at police stations in France. Therefore it is recommended to attend the police station with a French speaker able to translate the statement of the victim.
Once the statement is recorded, the victim is given a certificate and the police immediately inform the local prosecutor (“procureur de la République”).
If the complaint appears justified, the prosecutor will order the police to investigate the case.
If the crime qualifies as a felony or if the investigation is complex the prosecutor will appoint an independent judge called the investigating judge (“juge d’instruction”) to investigate the case.
The police are required to keep the victim informed about the progress of the investigation. It is therefore essential to provide actual contact details or to appoint an attorney to follow up the case.
What are the victim's rights if the complaint is not considered or if the case is dismissed by the prosecutor ?
If the prosecutor decides to dismiss the complaint (with or without investigation), or if he does not react at all, the victim can file a complaint with constitution of civil party directly with the court.
This complaint will trigger a complex procedure and result in the appointment of an investigating judge.
The main difference between the complaint filed with the prosecutor and the complaint filed with an investigating judge is that the latter is required by law to investigate the case, even if the prosecutor dismissed the case.
In other words, except in limited situations, the investigating judge does not have the option to dismiss a complaint without any investigation.
To ensure that the complaint is not abusive, the victim is required, prior to the appointment of the investigating judge, to put some money in escrow with the court’s clerk. The amount is set by the court according to the victim’s incomes. The money is returned to the victim at the end of the investigation, if the complaint is not declared abusive.
Upon the appointment of the investigating judge, the victim can be informed about the progress of the investigation and even ask the judge to perform certain acts of investigation (witness hearings, technical investigations, etc.).
Filing a complaint with constitution of civil party must follow some strict rules. Due to the complexity of the proceedings, it is essential for the victim to be assisted by a lawyer during the whole investigation process.
Victims' rights during the trial phase
In France, when a suspect has been identified and summoned before the court to be judged, or if n case a plea bargain has been offered by the prosecutor, the victim is always invited to participate into the trial process and to make a claim for damages.
When the perpetrator has been arrested on site by the police and is judged immediately after the end of the custody, the victim can be informed of the date and time of the hearing by telephone, otherwise the victimit receives a notice called “avis à victime” by mail.
The victim has the right to an attorney during the trial phase.
If the victim is present, the court will usually ask them to testify about the circumstances of the crime.
The victim has, however, no obligation to be present and they can ask an attorney to represent them and speak on their behalf to the court.
The role of the victims' attorney is to support the accusation, present additional evidence, and to make a claim on behalf of his client.
The victim can ask to be compensated by the perpetrator for their physical or psychological pain, and/or material losses. They can also ask to be reimbursed from their legal costs.
Depending on the complexity of the case, the court can render its judgment immediately after the hearing, or it can postpone the deliberation in order to consider the case more thoroughly. In this event the judgment is usually delivered a few weeks later.
However, when the case relates to a felony, the verdict is always delivered immediately after the hearing.
When a victim is present or represented at the hearing, a criminal judgment has two parts:
After the verdict, the victims have normally ten days to file an appeal if they are not satisfied with the damages awarded by the court. The appeal can only relate to the amount of damages and not to the sentence imposed on the suspect or to a dismissal of the case by the court.
Collecting damages awarded by the court
When damages are awarded to a victim by a court, the main person responsible for the payment is the perpetrator of the crime.
Under certain conditions, when the perpetrator is insolvent, some public funds may cover all or a part of the damages awarded by the court to the victim.
Our firm's experience
We know how traumatizing being a victim of a crime in a foreign country can be.
This is why we have set up internal proceedings to assist rapidly and efficiently victims of a crime in France by ensuring that their rights are fully respected at each stage of the investigation and, later, during the trial phase.
During the investigation phase, we closely monitor the progress of the case and we keep our client regularly informed.
We closely work with experts such as legal physicians and psychologists in order to help our clients to collect all the necessary evidence of their physical and mental condition after the crime.
During the trial phase, we represent our client and we support the accusation in order to ensure that the suspect is convicted for the crime perpetrated against our client.
Our expertise in criminal proceedings and loss adjustment allows us to advise our clients and to ensure that they receive a fair and proportionate compensation for their suffering and losses, in accordance with French courts case law.