Crime Victim Assistance
Being the victim of a crime in a foreign country can be a devastating and traumatic experience. While no one can undo the emotional trauma, physical injury, or financial loss you may have experienced, the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa is ready to help. We are very concerned about violent crimes committed against U.S. citizens in Honduras. We will assist you in managing the practical consequences of being a crime victim and provide you with information about accessing the local criminal justice system, as well as other resources for crime victims abroad and the United States. This office can assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family or friends on your behalf and explain how funds can be transferred. We can also help you to better understand the criminal justice system in Honduras, which is very different from the system in the United States.
The information included in this guide relating to the legal requirements in Honduras is provided for general information purposes only. The information may not be accurate or relevant to a particular case. Questions involving interpretation of Honduran laws should be addressed to legal counsel licensed to practice law in Honduras. The investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may assist local authorities in certain cases of kidnapping, hostage-taking and terrorism.
Victims of crime can file police reports or register complaints at the local investigative police (Dirección Nacional de Investigación Criminal) in the jurisdiction where the crime took place. There are no special police officers that assist foreigners. Police reports must be filed by the victim as soon as possible. The victims will receive a copy of the report. Police does not provide interpreters. If the victim has left the country, they may file a report with the Police or the Public Ministry through a letter. The crime may also be reported to the U.S. Embassy which in return can file it with the Police or the Public Ministry.
If you have difficulties filing your police report with an official, please contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate immediately. You may need a police report to file for crime victim compensation or insurance reimbursement. If you do decide to file a report, please send a copy to us, along with your address and phone number in the event we need to communicate with you. While we are not authorized to act as your legal representative, prosecutor or investigator, our office can help you track the progress of your case and advise you of any developments.
Many crime investigations never result in the arrest of a suspect. The Dirección Nacional de Investigación Criminal is the entity in charge of investigating crimes. Collection of forensic evidence is not a common practice in Honduras. The victim may obtain information about the progress of the investigation through the investigative police, Dirección Nacional de Investigación Criminal. The victim should report threats, harassment or intimidation directly to the Dirección Nacional de Investigación Criminal. A case for which an arrest warrant has not been issued, may remain open the amount of time plus half of the equivalent maximum sentence of the crime.
Not all suspects are detained until the trial; some may be released on personal recognizance, depending on the crime. The victim is usually not notified of the arrest. The victim will be asked to identify the perpetrator in-person or in a procedure similar to a police lineup.
The prosecutor's office (Ministerio Público also known as Fiscalía) decides if charges will be filed and if the case will go to trial. They will also be responsible for the prosecution. Criminal courts have jurisdiction in criminal cases and the victim is represented by the prosecutor's office. Plea bargains are possible during the pre-trial period and on the first day of the trial.
Trials usually only last a couple of days. However, the time that elapses between the time of the arrest and the time of the trial may take up to two years. In some cases, the victim is required to return to Honduras once for the arraignment hearing and then again for the trial. Trials are open to the general public, including media; consular officers may be present as well. Due to lack of funding, the Honduran judicial system usually asks victims to bring their own translators. The ruling court consists of three magistrates, no jury. There are only a few special protocol requirements in the courtroom, such as standing when the judge enters the courtroom, turning off cell phones, not speaking during the trial. No one is permitted to enter or leave the courtroom once the trial has begun.
The verdict will be rendered immediately after the close of the trial or the following day. The sentence will be pronounced at a separate hearing within 30 days of the verdict. The victim will not be notified when the perpetrator is transferred or released.
The accused may appeal the court's decision and/or sentence. An appeal can take up to two years. The decision made by the court of appeals can also be appealed, prolonging the case for another two years. Appeals in Honduras are written not oral. Therefore, the victim does not have to testify again.
You may want to consider hiring a local attorney to secure appropriate legal guidance. Local legal procedures differ from those in the United States. Although the Public Ministry is responsible for prosecuting your case, your attorney can promote your interests with the police and the court. While our office cannot recommend specific attorneys, we can provide you with a list of attorneys who have expressed interest in representing U.S. citizens (PDF 351KB).
Victim Compensation in Honduras
In Honduras, there is no national crime victim assistance office, nor are there any domestic violence or sexual assault hotlines. The Honduran government does not provide monetary compensation to crime victims. However, the victim may file a civil suit for damages.
Americans living or traveling in Honduras are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Honduras. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
Special Information for Cases of Sexual Assault and Rape
Physical evidence is very important in sexual assault cases and can deteriorate as time passes. As such, victims should not change clothes, avoid bathing if possible and have a physical exam at the first opportunity. You should take these steps even if you are unsure about whether to report the crime to police. If you decide to pursue a prosecution at a later time, these steps preserve evidence that will assist the prosecutor. A consular officer or after-hours duty officer from the U.S. Embassy may be able to accompany victims of sexual assault for the medical exam.
Forensic sexual assault exams are ordered by the Public Ministry. However, not all cities have access to this type of examination and therefore, they are not always ordered. When ordered, these exams are performed by a medical forensic doctor at their office. These exams normally include a pelvic exam, physical collection of body specimens for evidentiary purposes and blood samples. Pregnancy and HIV testing are also performed. Victims are allowed to bring a support person throughout the examination. These examinations are free of charge.
If the victim decides not to have a medical exam, rape/sexual assault charges can still be filed. However, if there is no other evidence, it may affect the outcome of the trial.
You should get medical attention to determine if you have been injured in any way and to discuss treatment and prevention options for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Emergency contraception (the morning-after pill) is available in Honduras. HIV prophylaxis is also available. The U.S. Embassy can provide you with a list of local hospitals where most doctors have their offices.
The victim will be initially interviewed by the police and by the prosecutors and will be later cross examined by the defense attorney and the judge at the trial. Acquaintance rape (date rape) is considered rape as well as spousal rape. There are no special considerations for male sexual assault, it is legally considered the same as female sexual assault and prosecuted the same way.
There are no laws that protect the identity of sexual assault survivors, except when the victim is a minor. Media attention is always a possibility, but not customary.
There are no rape crisis hotlines in Honduras.
Special Information for Cases of Domestic Violence
There are two categories of Domestic Violence in Honduras, "Violencia Doméstica" and "Violencia Intrafamiliar".
"Violencia Doméstica" does not involve physical injury and is considered a civil matter not a crime. Whenever a police report is filed under this category, the aggressor will be detained for a few hours and a protection/restraining order may be issued.
"Violencia Intrafamiliar" involves physical injury and is considered a crime. Once the police report is filed, the aggressor will be detained and trial procedures will be initiated. A protection/restraining order can also be obtained under this category. If the aggressor violates the order, the victim must file a new police report. There are very few domestic violence shelters in Honduras at this time. The U.S. Embassy is only aware of two, one in the city of La Ceiba and another in Tegucigalpa. These shelters are run by NGOs and have private security. They may house around 15 people at a time. They do not usually take clients on a walk-in basis, a referral by local authorities or other entities is usually requested. Children are allowed in the shelters if accompanied by their mother. There are no domestic violence hotlines in Honduras.
Stalking is considered a crime in Honduras if the stalker is an authority figure (i.e, teacher, boss, etc).
Special Information for Cases of Child Abuse
The Honduran government authority responsible for the protection of children is the "Instituto Hondureño de la Niñez y la Familia (IHNFA)". Child abuse allegations are investigated by the Public Ministry. Child abuse may be reported by anyone through a phone call, a letter or by filing a police report. A child who has been removed from his or her home is placed at an IHNFA orphanage. The Public Ministry's forensic laboratories will provide physical and psychological evaluations for abused children only. The Public Ministry's forensic lab will provide physical and psychological evaluations for abused children to be used at a trial. If the abuser is charged, the child will be expected to testify. Special accommodations for the child to minimize the trauma of testifying are sometimes provided.
Special Information for Cases of Kidnapping
Kidnappings are investigated by the local criminal investigative police (DNIC). The U.S. Embassy's Regional Security Office is the primary liaison with the U.S. and Honduran authorities in kidnapping cases. Any kidnapping of an American citizen should be reported to the U.S. Embassy immediately.
Special Information for Cases of Homicide
Autopsies are required in all homicide cases. If the estate is seized by the Honduran authorities as evidence, the release of these effects will not become available until the trial is over. If the effects are not seized by the authorities, the U.S. Embassy can assist the family with the disposition of the estate. The U.S. Embassy has made arrangements with the Honduran Attorney General's office to create a unit which deals with criminal cases involving Americans citizens.
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