U.S. citizens who are victims of a crime overseas may suffer from physical injuries, as well as emotional or financial damages. Circumstances can be even more difficult to navigate because the victim may find himself/herself in unfamiliar surroundings, and may not know the local language or customs. The American Citizen Services offices at the U.S. Embassy in Paris and Consulates General in Marseille and Strasbourg can assist you in accessing the local criminal justice system and resources for crime victims in France.
If You Are the Victim of a Crime in France:
- Contact the local police and get immediate help. Dial 112 (English-speaking European emergency number).
- Seek Medical attention (Dial 112 English-speaking)
- Notify the U.S. Embassy – Tel: +33 1 43 12-22 22.
What to Expect When Reporting a Crime
|Filing a complaint – Police officers will take you to the nearest police station in order to record your complaint. You may also go on your own to the nearest gendarmerie or commissariat police station to file a precise complaint including the nature and details of the infraction, and the offender’s name, if known. Include all proof of the crime, including medical certificates and bills if medical treatment has already been sought, etc.
In the case of physical assault, police officers my accompany you to a medical examination or provide you with a written document allowing you to be examined at a medical-legal emergency unit. An investigation will then be opened.
|Examination by a doctor – At the request of the police or gendarmes, the victim may be examined by a doctor. The doctor will examine any injuries and look for DNA traces. DNA evidence has become a routine part of investigating and prosecuting all types of crimes. It is often an important tool in achieving justice for survivors of sexual assault. For this reason, it is important to try to avoid bathing, cleaning your fingernails, or urinating until after a sexual assault forensic exam has been performed.
The doctor can also search for any traces of drugs (i.e. GHB – the drug commonly referred to as the “date rape” drug).
The doctor will issue the victim an official medical certificate indicating his/her condition. An AIDS test and, if necessary, a pregnancy test can be carried out.
How We Can Help
- Help you find appropriate medical care;
- Assist you in reporting a crime to the police;
- Contact relatives or friends with your written consent;
- Explain the local criminal justice process in general terms;
- Provide a list of local English-speaking attorneys;
- Provide information on victim’s compensation programs in the U.S.;
- Provide the Paris Police Prefecture pamphlet in English, Paris in Complete Safety, which offers practical advice and useful telephone numbers for visitors
- Provide an emergency loan for repatriation to the United States and/or limited medical support in cases of destitution;
- Help you find accommodation and arrange flights home;
- Replace a stolen or lost passport;
- Provide you with names and address of specific victims’ assistance organizations in the U.S.
The Embassy cannot:
- Investigate crimes;
- Provide legal advice or represent you in court;
- Serve as official interpreters or translators;
- Pay legal, medical, or other fees for you;
- Request preferential treatment for U.S. citizens during legal proceedings in France
The Legal Process
Reporting a Crime
- If you report a crime and file a formal complaint with the police, an investigating judge (“juge d’instruction”) is appointed to the case. The judge will rule on whether or not to conduct an investigation and prosecute the crime.
- If you did not report the crime to the police at the time of the assault, you may write to the procureur’s office and file a formal complaint and claim for civil damages (“plainte avec constitution de partie civile”). This type of complaint allows victims to immediately indicate a claim for compensation and a desire to be actively involved in the legal process (partie civile status may be claimed at any time during a trial). The complaint will be forwarded directly to the juge d’instruction. (A sample letter is attached to this package.)
Right to a lawyer – The victim may seek the assistance of a lawyer. The victim may benefit from financial assistance to cover some or all legal fees through legal aide (“aide juridictionelle”). The lawyer can be present at all confrontations between the victim and the alleged attacker;at all of the victim’s hearings.
Evidence – Apart from DNA traces and possible injuries, any evidence gathered by the victim may be examined by the courts: testimonies; records of text messages and emails; recordings of conversations, even without the author’s knowledge; clothing, etc.
Filing a claim for civil damages (“Constitution de partie civile”)
The victim is responsible for reporting the crime, filing a formal complaint, and filing a claim for civil damages (that is, identifying himself/herself as the partie civile in the case – see details below). A lawyer is recommended in order to ensure compliance with the correct procedures.
“Partie Civile”: what it means?
- It is the victim’s formal attachment to a criminal case. The partie civile has privileges such as being informed of developments in the case, being able to contest certain court decisions, being able to present additional evidence in the case, and testifying in court.
- Whether or not a complaint proceeds to litigation is decided by the French prosecutor (procureur) who reviews the case and decides whether there is sufficient proof to proceed against a suspect. The procureur may forward the case to a judge (juge d’instruction or examining magistrate) for further investigation and review, may dismiss the case due to insufficient evidence, or may negotiate a settlement.
- If the case is forwarded for further investigation, the juge d’instruction may then either dismiss the case due to insufficient evidence, or forward it to the appropriate jurisdiction for trial.
Timeframe – Depending on the severity and complexity of the crime, it may take several weeks or months before the court processes a case to completion. For misdemeanor-type cases, however, the procureur may negotiate a more immediate settlement between the victim and the offender. In most cases, a French lawyer representing your case may pursue the case while you are abroad, although you may be required to be present as a witness during the trial.
Under French law, compensation is available to all victims of crime committed on French soil. In order to be eligible for victims’ rights and benefits, one must be in legal status in France, whether as a tourist or a resident.
Appointed commissions (Commissions d’indemnisation des victimes d’infractions, or CIVI), available at every Tribunal de Grande Instance, determine the material and nonmaterial damages (psychological, emotional, loss of potential income, etc.) to be compensated. This financial award may include legal costs as well, including expenses associated with travel to and from France during the legal process.
While organizations for victims’ assistance can help you to prepare an initial claim to file, hiring a lawyer can minimize bureaucracy and prevent procedural mistakes. The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of English-speaking lawyers.
To recover damages, French law usually addresses the perpetrator of the crime, if identified, and the victim’s insurance, but recognizes that these sources may not always guarantee compensation. A state fund (Fonds de Garantie) provides compensation for both serious and minor crimes, but in practice offers very little remuneration in cases other than those involving wrongful death, serious personal injury (causing loss of at least one month of activity or continuous after-effects), or sexual violence.
Contact Information and Victims’ Resources
- Contact the S. Embassy, 4 av. Gabriel 75008 Paris. Tel: 01 4312 2222. Email: email@example.com
- France Victimes, Umbrella organization for victims’ services. English-speaking counselors on staff. Legal and counseling assistance and referrals available. Call: 116-006 – from the U.S. : 011 33 1 80 52 33 76. . http://www.france-victimes.fr/ 7 days a week, from 9 AM to 7 PM (local time) Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Paris Aide Aux Victimes, 4-14 rue Ferrus, 75014 Paris, Tel: 01-4588-1800, and 22 rue Jacques Kellner, 75017 Paris, Tel: 01-5306-8350; email@example.com; English-speaking legal advice and other services.
- National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards: nacvcb.org;
- S. Department of Justice Violence Against Women Office: http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/index.html;
- National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) – Toll-free hotline available Monday-Friday 9am-5pm EST for information and referral to victim assistance programs: 1-800-TRY-NOVA
- Office for Victims of Crime, U.S. Department of Justice – Contact information for non-emergency services in communities throughout the U.S.: https://ojp.gov/ovc/help/index.html;
- European Commission website: https://e-justice.europa.eu/content_victims_of_crime-65-en.do contains information on victims compensation and procedures, criminal proceedings, complete factsheets on the rights of victims in criminal proceedings, covering all EU Member States.
- National Crime Victim Center – Information for crime victims on the impact of crime, safety planning, legal rights and civil legal remedies, and options for assistance and referrals to local programs.