July 15, 1994


Ellen K. Alexander

Janice Harris Lord

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Prepared by

National Victim Center

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Mothers Against Drunk Driving

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American Prosecutor's

Research Institute

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Sponsored by U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime


Impact Statements -- A Victim's Right to Speak...A Nation's Responsibility to Listen is dedicated to the millions of crime victims who have suffered unspeakable acts and face overwhelming obstacles as a result of crime; but do so with courage, determination, and dignity. They serve as an inspiration to us all. We also applaud the thousands of victim advocates and criminal justice professionals who work tirelessly to meet the needs of crime victims and who continuously strive to improve not only the criminal justice system's response to crime victims, but the nation's as well.

This project was supported by Grant Number 92-MU-MU-K003, awarded to the National Victim Center, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and American Prosecutors Research Institute by the Office for Victims of Crime, within the Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, which supports efforts to assist crime victims at the Federal, state and local levels, and administers the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) and the Crime Victim's Fund. Findings and conclusions of the research and recommendations reported here are those of the researchers and do not necessarily reflect the official positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice or the Office for Victims of Crime.

Impact Statements -- A Victim's Right to Speak...A Nation's Responsibility to Listen

"As a victim you're amazed that no one will ask you about the crime, or the effect that it has on you and your family. You took the...defendant's blows, heard his threats, listened to him brag that he'd `beat the rap' or `con the judge'. No one ever hears these things. They never give you a chance to tell them."

A Victim - President's Task Force on Victims of Crime

"There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice.

Montesquieu, 1742

The authors of the United States and state constitutions, as well as early Federal and state legislators, could not have imagined that in the year 1991, 34.7 million persons over the age of 12 and living in the United States would experience a crime. Of these, more than 6.4 million being violent crimes such as rape, robbery, and aggravated and simple assault.1 (These numbers exclude murder, other forms of homicide, drunk driving deaths and injury, and child abuse.)

Violent crime occurred only rarely in Colonial America and when it did, the government was only peripherally involved. Prosecution of criminals was a private matter, and the primary concern of the colonial fathers, since they had seen so much criminal injustice in the British system, was that the accused be afforded a fair and unbiased trial. In time, in order to improve law enforcement and to better protect the rights of the accused, police and prosecution functions became public matters - the responsibility of the state.

Americans can be justifiably proud of the rights established for criminal defendants. However, along the way, victims of crime became more and more excluded from the justice system, unless they were needed as witnesses, complainants, or to present evidence in criminal trials. While those who so carefully established rights for defendants probably did not intend such exclusion, little by little, this practice has woven its way into courtrooms throughout the United States. As a result, victims have often been silenced within the criminal justice system.

In response to this alienation from the system, victims have sought greater input and participation into the criminal proceedings, as well as recognition of the harm they have suffered personally.

In 1976, the first victim impact statement was introduced in Fresno County, California by then Chief Probation Officer James Rowland. At Mr. Rowland's initiation, victim impact statements became a part of all presentence investigation reports conducted in Fresno County. Since that time, the use of victim impact statements has gained tremendous momentum. As early as 1982, the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime's Final Report2 issued a recommendation that called for "judges to allow for, and give appropriate weight to, input at sentencing from victims of violent crime." In 1992, the United States Attorney General released 24 recommendations to strengthen the criminal justice system's treatment of crime victims. With the issuance of these recommendations, the Attorney General endorsed the use of victim impact statements by stating that judges should "Provide for hearing and considering the victims' perspective at sentencing and at any early release proceedings."3

One of the major successes of the victims' movement in the United States has been to substantially alter the public's view, as well as the views of many in the justice system, that crimes don't happen to "the State" but to people. Most victims of crime have a keen interest in the outcome of their cases, particularly when homicide is involved. Therefore, crime victims should serve an integral role in the criminal justice decision-making process.

Unfortunately, research has shown that victims and the criminal justice system have failed to take full advantage of this monumental victory. For example, in 1989, a study was conducted to assess victim rights and services in South Carolina. The study found that of the cases studied, in which the victim was notified and given the opportunity to make an impact statement at the time of sentencing, only 24% of victims exercised their right to do so.4

The failure of victims to exercise their right to submit a victim impact statement has been influenced by many factors: the fear of retaliation by the defendant; emotional difficulty in preparing the statement; the belief that judges do not seriously consider the victim impact statement when imposing sentence; and most important, a general lack of knowledge among many victims as to the purpose and importance of the impact statement.

A key factor attributed to the criminal justice system's failure to properly employ impact statements is the concern that allowing victims to participate in sentencing may unduly influence the impartiality and fairness of the sentencing process. But perhaps the most important factor in failing to utilize these valuable, informative tools is the lack of a comprehensive, systematic approach for the distribution, collection and application of victim impact statements within all agencies of the criminal justice system.

Recognizing the need for the development of such critical policies, procedures and guidelines, the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime, awarded an 18 month tri-phased grant to the National Victim Center, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and American Prosecutors Research Institute entitled Focus on the Future: A Systems Approach to Prosecution and Victim Assistance. As a product of this grant, Impact Statements -- A Victim's Right to Speak...A Nation's Responsibility to Listen will address these critical concerns.

Priorities for this component of the grant project have included a) focusing on the needs of crime victims in the criminal justice process, primarily at the prosecutorial level as prosecutors have the primary responsibility to see that victims have the opportunity to present their views to the court; b) the development of model victim impact statement guidelines and protocol addressing all key players in the criminal justice system; c) the development of model victim impact statements; d) and the offer of technical assistance to aid in the implementation of these model victim impact recommendations and guidelines and model victim impact statements.

The success of the American judicial system is directly impacted by the treatment of crime victims. Alienation of victims from the justice process can only result in disastrous consequences. Our justice system system can only function when victims report crime and testify at trials. To insure their participation, victims must be afforded fair, sensitive treatment and an integral role in decision-making processes. Victims must be, by legislative mandate, given the right to speak on victim impact, and our nation must acknowledge its responsibility to listen. Without hearing from crime victims, America's criminal justice system cannot operate efficiently or effectively.

1 "Criminal Victimization 1991: A National Crime Victimization Survey Report." Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, 1992.

2 United States. President's Task Force on Victims of Crime. Final Report. December 1982. p 72

3 United States. Office of the Attorney General. Combating Violent Crime: 24 Recommendations to Strengthen Criminal Justice. 1992. p. 50.

4 Dean G. Kilpatrick and Ritchie P. Tidwell, "Victims' Rights and Services in South Carolina: The Dream, The Law, the Reality, Final Report (Charleston, SC: Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center, Medical University of South Carolina, 1989)

Links to the Victim Impact Statements

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Key Findings


Victim Impact and Law Enforcement

Enhancing Prosecutor and Victim Communication

The Judiciary: An Integral Link in Assessing Victim Impact

Do Gains for Victims Harm Defendants?

Do Victim Impact Statements Increase Victim Satisfaction?

Victim Impact--How Does It Impact Probation and Parole?

Victim Impact in the Federal System

America's Forgotten Victims: Victims of Juvenile Crime

Victim Impact Statement Models

NVC, MADD and APRI Examine Currently Used Victim Impact Statements

Victim Impact Statements: Do They Increase Victim Satisfaction?

Do Statutory Variations Limit Direct Victim Involvement in the Sentencing Process?

Existing Victim Impact Forms: A Review

Sample Cover Letter Accompanying Victim Impact Statement

Suggestions for Completing Your Victim Impact Statement

Victim Impact Statements

Victim Impact Statements for Family Members or Friends of a Homicide Victim

Victim Impact Statements for Children and Their Parents

Victim Impact Statements Just for Little Kids

Financial Impact Statement Worksheet

Sentencing Recommendations


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