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Victims of Crime

Victims' Rights Laws

In the early 1980s, groups such as MOTHERS AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING (MADD), the National Coalition against Domestic Violence, and Parents of Murdered Children began calling for legislative recognition of VICTIMS' RIGHTS. Partly as a result of their efforts, in 1982 Congress enacted the Victim and Witness Protection Act (VWPA) (18 U.S.C.A. §§ 1512–1515, 3663–3664), which provides penalties for interfering with witnesses, victims, or informants and allows for restitution to victims of federal crimes. The VWPA has served as a model for many state victim protection laws, especially those providing for restitution to crime victims. The Victims of Crime Act also provided $150 million to support compensation and victim assistance programs.

Most states have adopted provisions in support of victims' rights. The majority have been enacted through legislation, but several take the form of state constitutional amendments. These laws require victims to be treated with dignity and fairness, and many require that the victim be kept informed of the status of the case and be notified when the criminal is released from prison. A key part of these initiatives deals with "victim impact statements." A victim impact statement is made by the victim or a member of the victim's family at the time of sentencing or during a PAROLE hearing. The speaker describes the impact the crime has had upon the victim and her family.

In Booth v. Maryland, 482 U.S. 496, 107 S. Ct. 2529, 96 L. Ed. 2d 440 (1987), the U.S. Supreme Court forbade the use of victim impact statements in death penalty cases. The Court reasoned that the imposition of CAPITAL PUNISHMENT could be based on subjective feelings for the victim rather than objective criteria indicating the defendant's guilt. In Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808, 111 S. Ct. 2597, 115 L. Ed. 2d 720 (1991), however, the Court reversed itself and held that the EIGHTH AMENDMENT does not bar the jury from considering victim impact statements.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Vest to Water RightsVictims of Crime - Right To Sue, Victim Compensation Laws, An Automated Victim Notification System, Victims' Rights Laws