Designing Victim Impact Statements for Fraud Victims
Due to various policy and jurisdictional issues surrounding the submission of victim impact statements (VISs), this appendix does not provide victim/witness coordinators with a sample of a fraud victim impact statement. It does, however, provide information and recommendations to consider when developing or modifying VISs to meet the specific needs of fraud victims. Victim/witness coordinators who wish to design a fraud-specific impact statement should work with their U.S. Attorney, probation department, court representative, and EOUSA.
A VIS is perhaps one of the most powerful vehicles victims have for becoming actively involved in the disposition of criminal cases. As early as 1981, researchers, mental health practitioners, and criminal justice professionals recognized that victims who receive information about their criminal case and are allowed to have input into the justice process experience a higher degree of satisfaction with the justice process. One way victims can increase their participation in the justice process is through the submission of written VISs. Although all states and the federal government have granted victims the right to submit written VISs, many victims fail to exercise this right due to several factors:
Additional factors for victims' reluctance to submit VISs include these:
Ultimately, a VIS should address the agenda of both the victim and the criminal justice system. For a victim, the VIS should serve as a means to
It is important to note that victims of fraud typically do not experience direct physical harm as a result of the crime (the most notable exception being cases of Medicare fraud where victims' health was put at risk or compromised). Therefore, questions related to physical harm in fraud crimes might be tailored to extract more information about physical impact. For example, the form could ask, "Has this crime affected your overall physical well-being? If so, please explain."
For the justice system, a VIS should
A.Important Considerations in Developing a VIS
When developing a model VIS form and accompanying resources (such as cover letters), victim/witness coordinators, in cooperation with their U.S. Attorney, representatives of the court, U.S. Probation Department, and EOUSA, should consider the following recommendations to increase victims' understanding of VISs, thereby increasing their submission to the court:
Research has shown that one of the primary reasons victims fail to submit a VIS is poor form design. Many forms provide limited space for victims to respond or ask narrowly focused, closed-ended questions. Such a format often conveys to victims that those who work in the justice system really are not interested in what they have to say. A model form design is one that
2.Introduction of the Victim Impact Statement
A model VIS contains an opening paragraph that explains why the victim has been asked to complete the form. This is important since many victims are not familiar with a VIS or its uses. The following information should be noted on the form itself or in accompanying materials:
Additionally, victim/witness coordinators should provide victims with information, where appropriate, on their ability to attend and present oral impact statements to the court at the time of sentencing, either in addition to or in place of the written statement. Victims should also be told how to request the opportunity to present oral VISs.
3.Instructions for the Completion and Submission of a VIS
Victims may be reluctant to submit a VIS if they do not have clear, concise instructions on how the form (or other allowable format) should be completed and to whom it should be submitted. Instructions may appear on the form itself or in an introductory letter. A model VIS includes an instruction section that does the following:
4.Order of Questions
A model VIS should seek information from the victim on a number of aspects of the victim's life:
Each statement should begin with a question about the victim's emotional state or emotional harm to convey a sense of caring by those who work in the justice process.
Some victims will not submit a VIS if they are required to list their personal contact information on the form itself, out of fear of retaliation by the defendant. Where possible, victims should not be required to place personal contact information on the form itself, but rather on a separate cover sheet that can be removed (with the court's permission) before distribution to the defendant and his or her attorney. If this procedure is allowed, victims should be told early on.
Additionally, VISs should be reproduced in large print for elderly or sight-impaired victims and, where practical and necessary, in languages other than English.
B.Sample Cover Letter to Accompany a VIS
Although many crime victims experience similar feelings, questions, and concerns as a result of crime, no two victims experience the same emotional, physical, and financial impact. Only you can tell those of us involved in your case how you or those close to you have been affected by this crime. One way to do this is to prepare a victim impact statement. Not all victims are comfortable putting their thoughts on paper, and while you have the opportunity to complete an impact statement, you are under no obligation to do so.
If you would like to submit an impact statement for the court's review, a form is attached for your use. The enclosed form may appear to be impersonal, but when it is completed in your own words, it will help to personalize the impact this crime has had on you and those close to you. To further assist you, I am enclosing a suggestion sheet that may help as you complete your impact statement.
Upon receipt of your completed victim impact statement, I will forward it to the U.S. Probation Department. The Probation Department may use information gathered from your impact statement to help prepare a pre-sentence investigative report for the judge hearing your case. Someone from the probation office may contact you for additional information. If a probation officer does contact you, please respond promptly.
The victim impact statement also provides you with an opportunity to present the court with information about the financial costs you may have incurred as a result of this crime. Please complete the enclosed financial worksheet and return it with your completed impact statement, along with any copies of documentation you may have to verify your losses. Your completed form should be returned to my office at [Mailing address] no later than [Date].
[Add if applicable:] You also have the right to attend the sentencing hearing and request to speak to the judge at the time of sentencing. If you would like to do so, please contact me as soon as you receive this correspondence and I will assist you in making your request to speak to the judge at the sentencing hearing.
If you have any questions concerning how to complete the victim impact statement or how it will be used in the criminal justice system, please call me at [Number]. No one knows better than you how this crime may have changed your life. Thank you for taking the time to provide us with this important information.
Suggestions for Completing Your Victim Impact Statement
The following suggestions are offered only as a guide to help you to complete your written victim impact statement. Please answer as many questions as you wish. If you need additional space, please use additional pages and simply attach them to the form when you return it.
Only you know how best to describe the effects this crime has had on you and those close to you. We realize it may be difficult for you to put this impact into words. However, those of us involved in the justice process believe that it is very important for the judge in your case to understand all the ways this crime has affected you and those close to you. However, you are under no obligation to complete the statement if you do not wish to or feel uncomfortable in doing so.
You should also be advised that once you submit your statement, it becomes part of the defendant's permanent file. The judge, prosecutor, and probation officer will read your statement, and the defendant and his or her attorney will also receive a copy of it. [Add, where appropriate:] However, your personal contact information will be removed before the defendant or his or her attorney has a chance to review your statement.
Many victims find it helpful to organize their statement by the emotional, physical, and financial impact of the crime. Others find it helpful to write a rough draft of their statement before completing the final version.
If you would like to tell the court about the emotional impact of this crime, you may wish to consider the following:
If you or your family members have suffered any physical impact as a result of the crime, you may wish to describe the following:
If you would like to tell the court how this crime has affected your ability to earn a living and how it has affected you financially, please complete the financial impact section of the statement. When writing about the financial impact of this crime, you may wish to consider the following:
A financial worksheet attached to the victim impact form allows you to list financial losses that have resulted directly from the crime. It is important to be as complete as possible when describing your financial losses. The judge will use this information to determine whether it is allowable and appropriate for the defendant to be required to repay you for your losses. If ordered, this repayment of losses is called restitution.
Thank you very much for completing this important statement. If you need help or have questions, please contact [Name and phone number]. Your completed statement should be returned to [Agency name, contact, and address] no later than [Date].
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