Victim Impact Statements

When crimes are committed, the social order is disrupted. Crime distorts the harmonious living and organization of things in the society because it is against societal regularity. The impact crime has on our society can not be overemphasized. However, no matter how much we measure the effect of a crime on the order of things in the society, the person that suffers more is the victim of such a crime. This is because the crime has a psychological, pathological, social, financial and physical effect on the victim of such crime that is committed.

The recognition of this has made the justice system to incorporate what is called the “Victim Impact Statement”. The Victim Impact Statement is a written or oral statement that gives the victim, primary or secondary, of a crime the opportunity to express himself/herself on how the crime has affected him/her in different ways. It is a statement that gives the victim the opportunity to be part of the judicial process. In several states in America, victims are allowed to talk about the effect the crime has on them at judicial hearings and at paroles hearings.

Generally, the Victim Impact Statement contains a vivid description of the “physical, financial, psychological or emotional impact of the crime, 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, need for restitution and the victim’s opinion of an appropriate sentence for the offender. ” (Montaldo, 2004). In America today, all the 50 states use this statement in one form or the other.

Although the extent of use and relevance of these statements differ from one state to another, victim impact statements are increasingly being employed at various junctures in the criminal justice system. Today, the victim impact statements are becoming a necessity, even a right for victims of crime. Perhaps this is due to the benefits that come with it. For one, this statement makes us see the true picture of crime, making us know that there is more to crime than the penal measures that is taken by the judicial system.

It makes us see crime in a personalized way – through the eyes of the victim. However, the question we should ask is if this statement truly helps in the judicial process and if it does, it what ways? How do those directly involved in the judicial process – victims, judges, police and prosecutors – benefit from such a statement? The first person that I think should be considered in a criminal setting is the victim of the crime. This is because the crime is personal to them and it would have an injurious effect on them. However, the statement aids the victim’s healing process.

Victims feel better when they are given the opportunity to say how they feel and knowing their opinion counts in the judicial system. There is nothing that the victim of the crime wants more than justice and being given the opportunity to prescribe the type of punishment that the criminal should serve eases the anger and psychological effect the crime has on the victim. Furthermore, the judges benefit from this statement in the sense that they are made to know the impact of the crime and this serves as a means of determining the punitive measure that should be meted to the defendant.

In addition to this, the statement helps the police to understand the extent to which crimes affect people and this makes them do their job effectively. Having an idea of the impact of crimes committed on the victims of crime keeps the police on their toes and makes them more effective in crimes control. It changes their view of crime and makes them more dedicated to their job. Prosecutors also use this statement to drive home some salient points and they use this to appeal to the emotion of the judge and the parole board. They also use this statement to make financial claim for the victim.This is done if they can successfully prove that the crime has huge financial burden on the victim of the crime.

Reference:

• Montaldo, C. (2004) Victim Impact Statements An Important Tool: All 50 States Now Allow Victims to Be Heard. Retrieved from http://crime. about. com/od/victims/a/impact. htm on November 3, 2008 • Vital, V. (1994). Payne v. Tennessee: The use of victim impact evidence at capital sentencing trials. Thurgood Marshall Law Review, 497-534. • Mulholland, C. (1995). Sentencing criminals: The constitutionality of victim impact statements. Missouri Law Review, 60, 731-748.