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What Is the Crime Victim Right of Access in Pennsylvania?

Posted in Victims Of Crime on Thursday, April 4, 2024.

If you have been physically hurt or suffered financial harm due to a criminal act, you likely have grounds to file a civil suit against the person who committed the crime against you. However, achieving a positive result from this sort of claim can be difficult without thorough information about the crime that led to your damages, and obtaining that information used to be very difficult for a variety of reasons.

Fortunately, a change in Pennsylvania law that went into effect on May 2, 2023, gives crime victims in the Commonwealth the right of access to certain investigative and criminal records while building and pursuing a civil claim. Our victim representation attorneys could explain how the crime victim right of access in Pennsylvania works, as well as what we could do to help you make the most of this right.

Who Can Request Records as a Crime Victim?

Crime victim right of access (CVRA) is addressed in state law under 18 Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes §§ 9158 through 9158.7. Per these statutes, a person who has been directly victimized by a criminal act can file a request for specific criminal history investigative information for use in actual or potential civil action against the defendant whom that information concerns.

In this context, a victim of a criminal act is someone who has suffered some kind of compensable loss through the act in question. Accordingly, the crime victim right of access does not allow people who have not suffered physical, financial, or emotional harm to request confidential information. There is no strict requirement for a civil claim to already be ongoing at the time of the request, provided the requesting party intends to build such a claim with the requested information.

The Process for Enforcing Right of Access

Requesting parties—or legal counsel acting on their behalf—must fill out and submit a CVRA Request Form, which their applicable District Attorney’s Office should provide to them either as a paper copy or online. They must describe exactly what information they are seeking and provide their name, the name of the defendant suspected of committing the crime in question, the date on which the crime occurred, and which police department has jurisdiction over the crime.

Petitions must also include an unsworn statement affirming that the request for information pertains directly to an active or pending civil claim in the state of Pennsylvania. There is usually a processing fee of $250 for a CRVA request, and there may be additional fees depending on how long it takes the District Attorney’s Office to locate the requested records.

Appealing a Denied Records Request

A CRVA request may be denied without any opportunity for appeal if providing the requested information would endanger public safety or any individual person, interfere with an ongoing investigation or prosecution, or disclose confidential police procedures or informants. However, if a request is denied based on insufficient evidence that the material is needed for a civil action or because the information would identify a third-party victim of sexual abuse or domestic violence, it may be possible to appeal the denial within 45 days of receiving it.

If you need help seeking crime victim right of access in Pennsylvania, you should reach out to a knowledgeable lawyer sooner rather than later. Call today for further assistance and information.