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Effect of Victim Impact Statements

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The overall impact that crime can have on a victim may differ by its severity, some may have a subtle effect, while others may have a more harmful effect. We can often detect when someone has been harmed in some type of manner, whether it is specifically linked to crime or something different. Coping with the impact of a crime that remains with the victim, can be rather difficult and even hard to express to others. An important factor to consider when deciding the punishment for a criminal is the statement that comes from those affected by the crime committed. Victims are given the opportunity to express how they have been affected by what is known as victim impact statements (Worley, V., 2018; Worley, R., 2018, p. 677-678). The effect a victim has is extremely important and should be regarded when determining the result of how a criminal is reprimanded; as this may immediately correlate with the sense of justice for the victims.

In today’s society, victim impact statements are becoming significantly more prevalent and impactful during the decision-making process of a criminal’s sentence. Victim impact statements are used to describe how those who have been impacted are affected by a crime. These statements can come in the form of a written document or can be verbally communicated. Victim impact statements are used by both the judge and the parole authorities to provide information regarding how a victim has suffered and how it has directly affected them when determining the length of an offender’s jail sentence or parole (Worley, V., 2018; Worley, R., 2018, p. 677-678). The victim may include a description of the emotional, financial, and/or physical outcomes that correlate with the result of the crime and their suffering (United States Department of Justice [USDOJ], 2019). Victim impact statements have an important purpose and can have a large impact on the outcome of how an offender is sentenced.

Victim impact statements are not required or mandatory in any way, victims are given the option and must decide on their own; although they are strongly encouraged. Overall, there are two goals for constructing victim impact statements. The main goal is to support the victim’s right to present his/her story in their own words to the proper authorities on how the crime has directly impacted them (Worley, V., 2018; Worley, R., 2018, p. 677-678). Often times victims are not asked for testimony in a case, which leaves victim impact statements being the only way a victim can participate in the criminal justice process. Their statement is also one of the only ways to confront or speak to the offender that has injured them (National Center for Victims of Crime [NCVC], n.d.). Victim impact statements can be used as a way to provide a safe and guarded space for victims to confront their offenders, which can drive a positive contribution to the healing process (Pallini, 2017). Many victims find that their stories and trauma are vital pieces to be presented in front of the court. Edna Erez, suggests, “those victims often benefit from participation and input…the overall experience of providing input can be positive and empowering.” A study shows that victims feel highly satisfied with their level of justice and say that it gives them a sense of fairness (Erez, 2019). The second goal for writing a victim impact statement is to provide the victim with a sense of therapeutic justice, as it can be seen as a coping mechanism or a sense of closure. Furthermore, this goal is more to help and support the victim rather than the court, such as the judge and jury (Worley, V., 2018; Worley, R., 2018, p. 677-678).

Encouraging one who has been affected by a crime to present their feelings through a victim impact statement can be rather difficult. Often times when victims think about preparing a victim impact statement, they get unbearably anxious, as this may bring back some of the bad memories and possibly hurt them even more (NCVC, n.d.). Victims will often feel this way because they feel as if they are under pressure and feel that they are carrying the weight of the decision for the conviction of a crime (Erez, 2019). When it comes to the victim, writing a statement can be extremely painful, largely due to it most likely being the first time they have thought about presenting their side of the situation. Many victims realize that this can reproduce the impact and cause them to relive the situation they have suffered from once already (Worley, V., 2018; Worley, R., 2018, p. 677-678). Even though this can be a daunting and difficult process for victims, studies show that impact statements are making a difference.

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According to Jim Parsons and Tiffany Bergin, multiple studies have proven that victim impact statements can provide justice to victims. A study shows that “the use of these statements was linked to dramatic increases in victim satisfaction with prosecutors. However, other longitudinal studies have shown that impact statements do not increase overall satisfaction with the court process” (Parsons & Bergin, 2010). Other studies show that when victims can interact through a victim impact statement, this indicates that many choose to write one, leading to some kind of beneficial value for the victim (Kilpatrick et al., 1998). Although, other studies have shown that victim impact statements may not always have a successive value. Another study looked into the difference between written statements and oral statements to determine their effectiveness. The study revealed that orally presented statements have an increased amount of value to a victim than a written statement (Bibas, 2006). Victim impact statements are identified as 'emerging best practices to decrease the potential for trauma and can be used to enhance the beneficial elements of victim interaction with the criminal justice system (Parsons & Bergin, 2010).

Victim impact statements often provide a therapeutic level of justice and therapeutic advantages for victims. The victim impact statements support them in improving their general mental health and social welfare circumstances. In further research, studies show that victims that have spoken out and provided their side of the story, have felt more relieved, and satisfied, and this has allowed them to cope with the victimization (Erez, 2019). Edna Erez wrote, “...resolves the emotional aspects, achieve emotional recover, or achieve formal closure.” This feeling was found for those victims who have never been involved in the justice process. It allowed them to remind the judges how a real person who is now considered a victim has been affected by the crime committed and will remember the offender for the rest of their life. Victim impact statements from a physiological standpoint offer the victim the chance to speak out and remind themselves that they don’t need to be silenced by their offender (Robbennolt, 2006).

Lastly, over the years many people have fought for victim impact statements to be allowed in any type of criminal case. Previously, these statements were only permitted in capital crime trials which a case split into two phases; the first phase being the guilt phase using factual evidence and the second phase being the sentencing hearing. These crimes often include a legal process for the death penalty or a life sentence in prison (Dieter, 2007). Recently, there has been a fight to allow victim impact statements into non-capital crime trials, which include felony or misdemeanor crimes that do not involve the death penalty (Sentencing – Felony, 2019). The main problem that has developed from this includes the issue of bias coming from the victim’s side of the story. It is thought that victims could use their impact statement to negatively persuade the judges, parole authorities, and/or the juries of the case to seek sympathy and remorse (Askanas, 2016). Another preceding issue that is viewed from victim impact statements is the concept of them being prejudicial and other random information being brought in which could lead to capricious decisions or outcomes for the offender. The U.S. Supreme Court has proven that victim impact statements do not directly focus on misleading the judge or defendant by their eligibility to inform the judge how one has been affected. They have looked at and proven this through three different cases, Booth v. Maryland in 1987, Payne v. Tennessee in 1991, and South Carolina v. Gathers in 1989. Overall, they have determined that the influence of victim impact statements and their impact is relevant when determining the sentence in both capital and non-capital criminal court cases (Myers & Greene, n.d.).

Victim impact statements are extremely important and have a significant effect on a victim's feeling of justice and closure. Victim impact statements serve as an opportunity for victims to speak out about how a crime has affected them. These statements help assist judges and other court authorities when it comes down to determining the sentence of the offender. Victim impact statements have provided many positive outcomes for victims in studies over the years. It has been found that victims being given the opportunity to speak out, has allowed them to reinforce their mental health and stability, as well as feel empowered and gain a feeling of fairness. Writing a victim impact statement is not always easy for the victim, it can often bring back memories and even cause them to relive the situation all over again. Although, the studies conducted over recent years, have proven that victim impact statements do provide a positive and helpful experience for victims in the healing process. Victim impact statements are found in both capital cases and non-capital cases in the interest of justice for the victim. Overall, victim impact statements do create a powerful message and create a strong sense of justice in the interest of the victim.

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Effect of Victim Impact Statements. (2023, July 11). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/effect-of-victim-impact-statements/
“Effect of Victim Impact Statements.” Edubirdie, 11 Jul. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/effect-of-victim-impact-statements/
Effect of Victim Impact Statements. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/effect-of-victim-impact-statements/> [Accessed 2 Mar. 2024].
Effect of Victim Impact Statements [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Jul 11 [cited 2024 Mar 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/effect-of-victim-impact-statements/
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