Victim Impact Statements

2012-09-24 13:19:22

For every crime committed, there are at least two victims—society suffers a violation of its laws and the actual victim suffers an injury to person or property. Beginning with the ‘‘Victims’ Rights Movement’’ in the 1970s, the participation of the victim in the criminal justice system has increased. A victim impact statement is designed to increase victim participation at the posttrial stage of the criminal justice process after a defendant has been found guilty.

Although victim impact statements vary from state to state, they generally refer to written or oral information about the impact of a crime on a victim and the victim’s family and generally include a brief summary of the harm or trauma suffered by the victim as a result of the crime, the victim’s reactions or objections to the proposed sentence, a concise statement of what outcome the victim would like and the reasons to support this opinion, and the overall effect of the crime had on the victim and the family.

Today, the use of victim impact statements is routine in our criminal justice system. However, the use of victim impact statements in capital cases remains controversial. Although the Supreme Court in Payne v. Tennessee found that the admission of victim impact statements in capital cases did not violate the constitution, the role of victim impact statements in capital cases continues to be debated.


References and Further Reading

  • Alexander, Allen, and Janice Harris Ward. Impact Statements— A Victim’s Right to Speak.... A Nation’s Responsibilities to Listen. National Center for Arlington, VA: Victims of Crime, 1994.
  • Bandes, Susan, Empathy, Narrative, and Victim Impact Statements, University of Chicago Law Review 63 (1996): 361–412.
  • National Center for Victims of Crime, Statutory and Constitutional Protection of Victims’ Rights: Implementation and Impact on Crime Victims, Final Report, Arlington, Va., 1996.
  • Talbert, Philip A., Comment, The Relevance of Victim Impact Statements to the Criminal Sentencing Decision, University of California–Los Angeles Law Review 36 (1988): 199–232.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808 (1991)

See also Victimless Crimes; Victims’ Rights