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Crime Victims as Witnesses to an Execution: A National Protocol

NCJ Number
Mary Achilles
Date Published
18 pages
This report describes the work of a group of 15-plus specialists who contributed information in order to find consensus on the best practices for those serving in the role of victim advocate and counselor to survivors who choose to witness an execution.
The goal of this project was to create a written national protocol on how to prepare for and undertake the process of advocating and counseling victims witnessing an execution; how to prepare a videotaped documentary of victims who have witnessed an execution to aid victims and advocates deciding whether or not to participate in such a process; and the importance of providing support to victim advocates in the delivery of these services. The protocol is very to the point, and can be very difficult to implement as it is often very distressing. Three ethical precepts guide this protocol: that any jurisdiction that provides for capital punishment as a possible sanction of murder should require public witnesses at any execution; that such jurisdictions should invite surviving relatives of the murder victim to be among those public witnesses; and accompanying that offer should be the provision of help by trained victim advocates. Some primary areas of information covering are being informed at the time of sentencing about the appeals process, victim involvement in the decision to seek the death penalty, registering contact information of survivors, what to do prior to contacting the survivor/victim, preparing the victim, and post-execution and debriefing and follow-up contact. Descriptions of program elements and media issues are included.