Is there a term of art for the "victim" in a criminal case?

I've done a bit of searching, but can't really find an accurate answer. Often victims are lumped together with witnesses.

The reason that this is important to me is that victim is quite an emotive term, and implies intent and wrong-doing in a way that a term of art would not.

This seems particularly relevant in cases that might involve criminal negligence or other forms of strict liability. For example, shooting someone by mistake because you are playing with a gun.

You can get quite strange degrees of indirection here, for example people might be prosecuted for careless driving because someone was physically injured (or indeed theft / littering), and the victim isn't necessarily technically part of the case.

  • How would a victim, whose existence is necessary for the injury or theft to occur, not be part of the case? Littering doesn't have a victim so why would you need a term to describe one?
    – user4657
    Commented Nov 1, 2017 at 18:33
  • I guess it depends what you mean by part of a case. A criminal case is formalised at "the state vs". A victim isn't really part of this interaction other than as a witness or a piece of evidence! Parties to a case may be given certain rights regarding access to information and request, but this explicitly does not include the victim.
    – pseudstack
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 19:44
  • Dangerous driving is an example of a crime that may or may not have a victim. One could perhaps also think of cases like "conspiracy / intent to / attempted" crimes which may or may not have victims.
    – pseudstack
    Commented Nov 2, 2017 at 19:47

1 Answer 1


Often "victim" is the legal term most often used in criminal law. Another term which doesn't always precisely mean victim, but usually does, is "complaining witness." There are probably other terms used, but none that are used universally come to mind.

Of course, not all crimes have victims.

The term "victim" is frequently used in restitution statutes and in states that have a "victim's bill of rights."

In civil law, someone who is hurt by conduct is a "plaintiff", a "counterclaimant", a "crossclaimant" or simply a "claimant" or a "creditor".

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