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2006 WATCH Victim Impact Statement Study

Date: November 1, 2006
Country: United States of America
Type: Report
Issues: Court Monitoring, Women's Rights
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Victim impact statements, as the quotes above from four different judges convey, constitute a most unusual and perplexing form of communication in the legal arena. Judges make sentencing decisions or accept plea negotiations based on factors such as criminal history and severity of offense, and, in felony cases, judges are restricted by legislated sentencing guidelines. Victims in their impact statements, however, may want to influence the duration and disposition of the sentence and often seek emotional closure by describing the psychological and physical affect of the crime on their bodies and lives. Judges vary in whether they think impact statements should and do affect the terms of a sentence and whether the courtroom is the best place for a victim to reach emotional closure.

This study began 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.