A Victim Impact Statement (VIS) is a statement made by victims of crime after the defendant has been convicted and is to be sentenced, regarding the financial, psychological, social, and medical effects of crime on the victims. It is among the initiatives endorsed by President Reagan’s task force on victims of crime. This was in the view that victims, just like defendants, are entitled to have their views regarded at sentencing. VIS varies in content as some restrict the victims to objective effects of crime, others allow them to express their feelings about the crime, offender, or appropriate sentences. Others make it mandatory for victims to make speeches in court. It is a right of every victim in federal criminal sentencing.
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Benefits of a VIS
Victim Impact Statements provide information to the judge on the harm imposed by the criminal to the victim. The seriousness of the crime is one of the major factors in determining the sentences the judge hands to convicted criminals. The more serious or harmful the crime is, the stricter the penalty. Since the judge needs to know the impact or burden the crime has put on the victim, a VIS is imperative to have in deciding appropriate sentences. Other people may look at the defendant and doubt his capability for causing any harm to the victim, but, the victim is the one who went through the experience and therefore the only one able to express what happened and how it felt to the judge example in case of physical injury.
A VIS can also contain valuable information about restitution in case of federal violent crimes and serious offenses. This is important especially for victims with limited means who had to spend because of the crime and helps the judge to determine the proper restitution. Moreover, a VIS helps judges to take a balanced view of the case regarding the information presented by all parties including the victim. Prosecutors may present the case in court, but they are not affected by the aftermath of the crime at a personal level and therefore not fully aware of what the victim is going through.
In the events of the crime, the sentencing is the most public, formal, and ceremonial aspect. When victims are given a chance to talk together with the prosecutors, defendants, and those publicizing it, they feel that society recognizes their anguish and that they are valued in the criminal justice process.
VIS may have therapeutic aspects by helping victims recover from crimes committed towards them. This makes the victims go through what happened instead of shutting it out and realize they can deal with it. The chance to talk to the defendant about how they hurt and what they feel contributes to the process of healing. Also when the judge or others in court acknowledge that a wrong was committed against them and that it was not their fault, they regain to some extent a sense of dignity and respect instead of being powerless and ashamed.
A VIS can also contain valuable information about restitution in case of federal violent crimes and serious offenses. This is important, especially for victims with limited means who had to spend as a consequence of the crime
A VIS provides information important to ground restitution and/or crime victim compensation. This is because it contains information on the actual impacts of crime on the victim and his/her family in terms of the bills and debts encountered due to the crime as it contains a financial section for such impacts.
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A VIS gives a perception of fairness and justice served at the end by ensuring that all parties are heard, victim, defendant, state, and therefore anger is not directed to the police during their duties. Again a VIS may make defendants aware of the true impacts of their crime which will lead to greater acceptance of responsibility and rehabilitation. This makes the streets safer for people therefore less trouble for police. Lastly, VISs are put in the files of defendants which are accessible to justice professionals including the police. This makes it possible to establish criminal patterns and other information they can use to prevent crime.
It is the right of every victim to have a VIS. This statement is beneficial to the victim, judge, police, and prosecutor. This is because it provides information relevant to them; provides a therapeutic closure for the victim; gives a sense of fairness to the criminal justice, and indirectly can help reduce crime incidents. Given this VIS should be an essential aspect of criminal justice.