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Victim Impact Statements An Important Tool

All 50 States Now Allow Victims to Be Heard

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One of the most effective tools victims have in the fight against crime is the 'victim impact statement' used at the time of sentencing of defendants, and in many states, at parole hearings.

All 50 states now allow some form of victim impact information at sentencing. Most states allow either oral or written statements, or both, from the victim at the sentencing hearing, and require victim impact information to be included in the pre-sentence report, given to the judge prior to imposing sentence.

In a majority of states, victim impact statements are also allowed at parole hearings, while in other states a copy of the original statement is attached to the offender's file to be reviewed by the parole board. Some states allow these statements to be updated by the victims, to include any additional impact the original crime has had on their lives.

In a few states, victim impact statements are even allowed a bail hearings, pretrial release hearings, and even plea bargain hearings. For most victims of crime, these statements provide them an opportunity to focus the court's attention on the human cost of the crime and allow the victims to become a part of the criminal justice process. More than 80 percent of crime victims who have given such statements consider them to be a very important part of the process, according to a survey by the National Center for Victims of Crime.

In some states, but not all, the law allowing victim impact statements specifically require the judge (or parole board) to consider the statements in making a decision. In those states, the victim statements indeed have more impact on the judicial process and outcome.

Typically, a victim impact statement will contain the following:

  • The physical, financial, psychological or emotional impact of the crime.

  • The harm done to family relationship by the crime, such as the loss of a parent or caregiver.

  • Descriptions of medical treatment or psychological services required by the victim as a result of the crime.

  • The need for restitution.

  • The victim's opinion of an appropriate sentence for the offender.

Laws regarding victim impact statements vary from state to state. To find out the law in your state, contact the local prosecutor's office, the state Attorney General's office, or a local law library.

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