Today in History
February 24, 1976: The First Victim Impact Statement is Read at Trial
On this day 38 years ago the first Victim Impact statement was read in Court. This giant leap for victims’ rights happened in California when Doris Tate, a mother of one of Charles Manson’s murder victims, read her impact statement during the trial to help prevent members of his cult from obtaining parole.
Later, Tate became part of a group that worked toward the passage of Proposition 8, the Victim’s Rights Bill, which was passed in 1982. It allowed the presentation of victim impact statements during the sentencing of violent attackers.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, “victim impact statements are written or oral information from crime victims, in their own words, about how a crime has affected them.” All 50 states allow victim impact statements at some phase of the sentencing process. Most states permit them at parole hearings, and victim impact information is generally included in the pre-sentencing report presented to the judge.
The statements often include details of the physical, emotional, psychological and financial toll taken on the victim or their family as a result of the crime. The victim’s views on the offender, as well as their views on an appropriate sentence are also taken into consideration in some states.
Megan an advocate at PAAR, who routinely accompanies victims to court, discusses the significance of these statements:
The legal process is often grueling and can trigger unwelcome emotional responses or memories of a trauma. As advocates, we have heard countless times that participating in the legal system validates a victim’s experience and demands accountability. We have watched other victims struggle to find the strength to sit in a courtroom and face their perpetrator. In the end, it is the opportunity to address the court that can be empowering and therapeutic to victims. With an Impact Statement, victims have a voice in the process – a voice that speaks to the depth of their experience and the toll it has taken on all aspects of their lives. As an advocate, it is this statement that is often the most memorable. The opportunity to read an impact statement is the start of the healing process for many people, and can provide a sense of closure.
“All of these years, you thought you had won. But standing here today, I know that you did not because now everyone knows who you are and what you have done.”
Above is an excerpt from a victim impact statement from PAAR client. (Printed with permission from client)