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August 1, 2006

New study on victim impact testimony

As detailed in this press release, a Minnesota public policy group known as WATCH has released an interesting new study about the impact of victim impact statements.  WATCH descibes itself as "a volunteer-based court monitoring and research organization that follows cases of family and sexual violence and provides feedback to the justice system."  And this executive summary of its new study explains that WATCH began its work "by asking to what extent victim impact statements affected or should affect sentencing decisions and acceptance of plea negotiations, particularly in domestic violence or sexual assault cases, and what features make an impact statement persuasive or memorable."

The full victim statement study from WATCH is available here.  It concludes with a set of "specific recommendations for how to handle victim impact statements" and these closing sentiments:

Whether or not victim impact statements directly affect a sentence, they have value in the sentencing process.  They may convey which treatment plans might work for a defendant, offer new information to a judge, educate the whole courtroom about the nature of crime, or affirm how the sentence will work best in stopping violence or rehabilitating an offender. Certainly victim impact statements may help a victim reach emotional closure, and they bring a human face into the courtroom.  However, fear of the perpetrator or of the public setting of the courtroom, and distrust of the system might prevent a victim from writing or delivering an impact statement.  A domestic violence victim might have a hard time achieving credibility, especially if she recants or pleads for mercy for her abuser.  And to be persuasive, all victims may be challenged to distinguish their assault from the "average" assault and to give a balanced but detailed account of the effects of the crime on their lives. Judges, however, as we observed and as advocates convey, can help empower victims by being aware of the dynamics of their courtrooms and their own judicial demeanor.

Some related posts on victims' rights at sentencing:

August 1, 2006 at 09:03 AM | Permalink

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