How to Create a Compelling Victim Impact Statement
- 1). Right after a crime occurs, many victims are in a state of shock and often aren't thinking clearly. As soon as they begin to regain their equilibrium, they should start keeping notes. The notes should include details about the crime, who they talk to, how they're feeling, etc. It's easy to forget important details in the chaos of the aftermath of a crime.
- 2). After a suspect is apprehended, tried, and convicted, the victim will have the opportunity to make a Victim Impact Statement at the time the defendant is sentenced. The Victim Impact Statement can be in writing, it can be oral, and in some jurisdictions it can be presented by videotape. The victim's notes will be helpful in creating a powerful Victim Impact Statement.
- 3). Talk to the prosecutor and ask if the prosecutor's office has a victim assistance program. Most do. If so, ask to speak to a victim-witness assistance specialist. They will help in a variety of ways, and can provide guidance on the Victim Impact Statement.
- 4). The Victim Impact Statement can be provided by the victim, the survivor of a deceased victim, or a designated representative of the victim. Some courts allow more than one person to present a statement. Consider who would be the best person(s) to make a statement to the court.
- 5). Even if the victim chooses to make an oral Victim Impact Statement (speak openly to the judge or jury in court), it is useful to write the Victim Impact Statement down word-for-word. Read the Victim Impact Statement aloud before court to get used to saying the words aloud. Give a copy of the written Victim Impact Statement to the prosecutor. This document will become part of the permanent file, and usually, a copy will be given to the judge and to the defense counsel.
- 6). Even if the victim has written a Victim Impact Statement in preparation for making an oral statement, he or she does not have to read the written statement aloud in court. The speaker can speak directly from the heart. Often, such extemporaneous statements are very powerful and convey more to the court than a pre-rehearsed statement. The victim will usually be asked to approach the prosecutor's table to make the oral statement, so the victim should remember to take tissues if he/she is concerned about becoming emotional. Most courtrooms provide water at the tables. If the speaker begins to cry or has difficulty speaking, that's ok. The speaker should take his or her time with the statement - don't rush through it!
- 7). The focus of the Victim Impact Statement should be on the impact of the crime on the victim and his or her loved ones, NOT on the OFFENDER. The offender has already had his or her "day in court." Use this opportunity to explain to the court the human impact the crime has had on the victim, the victim's family, friends, colleagues, and community. In particular, make sure to describe the physical, emotional, financial, social and spiritual "costs" of the crime.
- 8). If the victim has been killed, the survivors should make an effort to explain to the court what kind of person the victim was. Give examples of the thoughtful or humorous things the victim did in life. Don't try to portray the victim as a saint, but as a living, breathing human being. Bring pictures of the deceased victim to court to show the judge. Remember, the judge has seen the crime scene and autopsy photos, so it is important to let the judge know what kind of person the victim was when alive.
- 9). If there are out-of-pocket costs associated with the crime that are not covered by insurance or victims' compensation (see my article on How to Get Crime Victim Compensation), be sure to include these amounts in the Victim Impact Statement and to ask the judge to order restitution (repayment by the offender).
Try not to rehash too many details of the crime in the Victim Impact Statement. The court already heard that information during the trial. In addition, be careful about making recommendations to the judge or jury about how to sentence the offender. If the victim feels strongly about making a recommendation, keep it brief. Again, the focus of the Victim Impact Statement should be on the VICTIM - and if the statement is a moving testimony to how the crime has changed the life of the victim or the victim's loved ones, the court will hear that message loud and clear.