Victim Impact Statements
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Victims' Rights Under Federal Law
Will I be able to make a statement at sentencing?
Except in limited circumstances, under federal law, victims have the right to not be excluded from public court proceedings, including sentencing. Victims also have the right to be reasonably heard at sentencing. This is done through a Victim Impact Statement
What is a Victim Impact Statement?
It is important for the Court to know the impact this crime has had on its victims. Victim impact statements describe the emotional, physical, and financial impact you and others have suffered as a direct result of the crime. Victim impact statements can be either written or oral statements.
Written impact statements are submitted to the United States Attorney’s Office and then forwarded to the U.S. Probation Office to be included as part of the Presentence Investigation Report. This report is then submitted to the judge prior to sentencing. Your written statement allows the judge time to re-read and ruminate on your words prior to making a sentencing decision. Since some victims are uncomfortable with completing a formal written statement for review, you can also consider wtriting a personal letter. It is important to know written Victim Impact Statements are usually seen by the defendant and the defense attorney however, they are filed under seal so they aren't part of the public record and any personal information such as your name is redacted.
An oral statement at the sentencing allows the judge to hear your voice and its inflections and to put a face to the crime committed. If you would like to speak at the sentencing, it is important to contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office Victim Witness Coordinator as soon as possible. The Victim Witness Coordinator will help you prepare to provide an oral statement.
You also have the option to submit a written statement AND give an oral statement at sentencing. Your oral statement can be new or you can read the written statement you previously provided. Combining a written statement with an oral statement during the sentence hearing can be especially impactful and helpful to the court.
What is the purpose of a Victim Impact Statement?
It provides an opportunity to express in your own words what you, your family, and others close to you have experienced as a result of the crime. Many victims also find it helps provide some measure of closure to the ordeal the crime has caused.
The victim impact statement assists the judge when he or she decides what sentence the defendant should receive. Although the judge will decide the defendant’s sentence based primarily on the pre-sentence report and certain sentencing guidelines, the judge should consider your opinion before making a decision.
Finally, it includes a financial loss statement which is used to verify and assess the financial impact of the crime upon you. This information is used by the Judge to determine any money the defendant may have to pay you for expenses you have paid or money you owe because of the crime. When the judge orders the defendant to pay the victim it is called "restitution." If the judge orders the defendant to pay you restitution, there is no guarantee that the defendant will be able to pay you the entire amount ordered.
What is a Pre-Sentence Report?
The Victim Impact Statement is an important part of the Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) prepared by the U.S. Probation Office. A PSR includes, among other things, the defendant’s criminal and social history; the details of the crime; the financial, social, psychological, and, if relevant, medical impact of the crime on the victims; and any victim impact statements. The PSR helps the judge determine the proper sentence to impose.