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Victims' Rights - Victim Impact Statements

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A major interest of the victims' rights movement has been to have the opportunity to describe at sentencing the harm caused by the crime. Victim impact evidence was quickly accepted in non-death penalty cases. The interests of victims in participating in the process and in providing information to calculate appropriate restitution are generally acknowledged as providing adequate justification for receiving such information. Victim impact statements may be received in written form directly from victims or survivors, may be transmitted through presentence reports, or may be delivered in person at the time of sentencing.

The major area of controversy involved victim impact evidence in death penalty cases. In Booth v. Maryland, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in 1987 that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment barred the presentation of such information because it created a substantial risk that the decision would be rendered arbitrarily. However, four years later in Payne v. Tennessee, the Court reversed its position and concluded that the Eighth Amendment imposed no restriction on this evidence. While it cautioned that victim impact statements could still be excluded if excessively prejudicial, the Court's majority made clear that it had heard and accepted the voices of the victims' rights movement with respect to the theoretical and practical importance of impact information. The decision in Payne represents one of the movement's most impressive victories.

Victims' Rights - U.s. Constitutional Protection For Victims [next] [back] Victims' Rights - Goals And Successes

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