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Victim Impact Statements: Fairness to Defendants? (From Controversies in Victimology, Second Edition, P 115-131, 2008, Laura J. Moriarty, ed. -- See NCJ-225281)

NCJ Number
Ida M. Johnson; Etta F. Morgan
Date Published
17 pages
After an overview of victim impact statements that includes the rationale for introducing them in court, this chapter discusses arguments for and against using victim impact statements, followed by a discussion of the effect victim impact statements have on sentencing decisions.
Victim impact statements allow victims to describe the physical, emotional, and economic effects the crime has caused them and to express an opinion as to the appropriate sentence. One compelling argument for victim impact statements is that they may have a positive impact upon court dispositions, leading to an increase in the use of restitution and compensation orders that address the harms to victims. One of the major arguments against victim impact statements is their tendency to increase the severity of sentencing based on the victim’s emotional state and exaggerated claims of harms related to the crime. The victim’s state of mind and claims of harm may then override objective sentencing based on sentencing guidelines and uniformity in sentencing for similar crimes. Some experts have concluded that cases in which victim impact statements were admitted were more likely to result in the offender going to prison rather than being placed on probation, compared to cases in which no victim impact statements were admitted. Some authorities believe that in enabling victims and their families to voice their feelings and concerns about the crime’s impact, victim impact statements have a therapeutic effect for victims. Victim satisfaction tends to increase if they believe their statements influence the sentencing outcome. In Payne v. Tennessee (1991), the U.S. Supreme Court reversed its decision in “Booth” (1987), which held that victim impact statements were not admissible. Under “Payne,” States have discretion regarding the admissibility of victim impact statements and other statements related to victim harms. 60 references