A victim impact statement is a statement from the victim of a crime which is typically provided to the court before a sentence is officially handed down. In some regions, a judge must consider the victim impact statement in his or her sentencing and final opinion. A victim impact statement can also play a role in a parole hearing, or in other hearings and court decisions. The goal is to give victims an active role in the criminal process, in the hopes of personalizing crimes and promoting victim recovery.
Generally, a victim impact statement can be either written or oral, and some courts allow videotaped statements. In the case of a murder trial, the victim impact statement usually comes from a closely affected family member, since the original victim is not able to speak in court. In some courts, statements from family members or friends of the victim are also allowed in other cases as well, to personalize the crime and its impact on the victim.
Several things are included in a victim impact statement. The first, obviously, is the financial, emotional, and social impact of a crime on a victim. For example, someone who was robbed might describe the difficulties he or she went through in replacing the stolen items. The statement may also include the victim's take on potential sentences for the crime, and in some regions the victim is allowed to respectfully suggest an appropriate punishment. This punishment may also include restitution. Finally, many victims also include brief highlights of their lives and personalities to illustrate that they are human beings who were hurt by the crime in question.
Two primary functions are served by the victim impact statement. The first is the humanization of a crime before the court. Thinking about how a crime has changed the life of the victim can be very important, especially in a busy court where a judge hears about a number of serious crimes annually. A judge may decide to hand down a heavier or lighter sentence on the basis of what the victim has to say, as some victims have been known to ask for clemency.
Recovery is the second aspect of a victim impact statements. Many victims greatly appreciate the opportunity to communicate to a caring audience about the crime, and some cite it as a very important stage in the recovery process. Since the convicted person also hears the statement, it may be the first opportunity the victim has to directly address the person who hurt him or her.