Victims’ Rights and Sentencing

Victims have undeniable opportunities in criminal cases and are provided by statutes designed for victims’ rights. One of these rights is the opportunity to participate in the sentencing portion of the criminal case.

A victim of a crime used to have little to do with the prosecution of their persecutor other than to testify at the trial. This led many to believe that the criminal system put a priority on the defendants rather than the victims who were not given proper notice of court proceedings. In the 1980’s states enacted legislation that give victims’ rights in the criminal justice procedure.

In all 50 states, there is some form of victim’s Bill of Rights enacted and advocate specifically for the victim. These laws specify that the victim is to be notified when criminal procedures that involve them take place, giving them the option of appearing in court. All victims’ rights laws allow the victim to partake in the sentencing and make a victim impact statement.

Victim Impact Statements

Crime victims can share their feelings and experiences during the sentencing phase. The victim impact statements allow the victims their input once a defendant is found guilty. These statements describe the damage they have suffered no matter if it is financial, physical, psychological, or emotional. If the victim is deceased such as in a homicide case, the victim’s family can make the victim statement. The victims are allowed to speak freely when giving a victim impact statement without any questions from an attorney.

Presentence Reports

Victims’ impact statements are supposed to be included in all pre-sentence reports in most states, although not every conviction leads to a pre-sentence report such as a low-level offense. Probation officers write these reports between the time of conviction and the sentencing hearing. The officer usually considers the defendant’s record and consults with involved individuals like the victim.

Speaking Up

A victim can prepare their impact statement in several ways. They deliver it orally, in writing or through video or audio recordings. The victim is not the only person allowed to make an impact statement. The judge can allow a close friend to make a statement, even though they may not be listed in the applicable victims’ rights law.


Often the victim is allowed to make an opinion about the sentencing of a defendant, although this statement does not bind a judge. Many states allow the judge to weigh the victim’s view as to the sentence of the defendant.

Limited Right

As victims’ rights laws establish more security and respect for victims, the case’s outcome is not always affected by this statement. The judge has the final say in sentencing.

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