Thou Shalt Not Kill Any Nice People: The Problem of Victim Impact Statements in Capital Sentencing

By Phillips, Amy K. | American Criminal Law Review, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

Thou Shalt Not Kill Any Nice People: The Problem of Victim Impact Statements in Capital Sentencing


Phillips, Amy K., American Criminal Law Review


I. INTRODUCTION II. THE LAW OF VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENTS IN CAPITAL SENTENCING

A. The Constitutionality of Victim Impact Statements in Capital

Sentencing

1. Booth v. Maryland and South Carolina v. Gathers

2. Payne v. Tennessee

B. The Admissibility of Victim Impact Statements in Capital

Sentencing Under State Laws III. THE TENDENCY OF CAPITAL JURIES TO CONSIDER IMPROPER

FACTORS IN SENTENCING

A. Even Absent Victim Impact Statements, Juries Consider

Improper Factors in Capital Sentencing

B. Victim Impact Statements Exaggerate the Extent to Which

Improper Factors Influence Capital Sentencing

1. Victim Impact Statements Focus the Jury's Attention on

Victim Characteristics

a. Personal Characteristics

b. "Victimhood" Characteristics

2. The Power of Victim Impact Statements Will Influence

Prosecutorial Decisions IV. ARGUABLE BENEFITS OF VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENTS DO NOT

OUTWEIGH THEIR COSTS

A. The Victim's Role in the Sentencing Process

B. The Prosecution's Advantage in a Capital Murder Trial V. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

The victim' rights movement has gained tremendous momentum in recent years, receiving political, media, and legal attention, and successfully lobbying for victims' rights legislation in the states and in Congress.(1) One type of this legislation allows victim impact statements in capital sentencing hearings.(2) Victim impact statement legislation generally allows the victim's family members to testify orally at the sentencing hearing, describing the characteristics of the victim and the financial and emotional impact of the crime on the family.(3)

In 1991, in Payne v. Tennessee,(4) the Supreme Court upheld the admission of victim impact statements in capital sentencing hearings, reasoning that victim impact evidence demonstrated the harm of the crime and that harm was a proper factor to consider in deciding whether a defendant should die for his crimes. Since that time, virtually all of the states that impose the death penalty have adopted legislation or interpreted previous legislation to allow victim impact statements in death penalty cases.(5) Due to current political pressures to remain "tough on crime," it is unlikely that these laws will be repealed in the near future. Nevertheless, many states leave the admission of victim impact evidence to the discretion of the trial judge.(6) This Note presents evidence that victim impact evidence encourages juries to impose the death penalty based on the perceived worth of the victim, in the hopes that judges will exercise their discretion to limit victim impact statements as much as possible.

This Note begins by describing the current state of the law regarding victim impact statements in capital sentencing. First, it chronicles the Supreme Court's vacillating jurisprudence regarding the admissibility of victim impact statements under the Eighth Amendment. Next, it summarizes state laws allowing victim impact statements in capital sentencing hearings. Part III addresses the problems posed by victim impact statements that should cause judges to exercise their discretion to minimize the statements' scope. It begins by explaining jurors' tendencies to consider victim characteristics in sentencing. Next, it demonstrates that victim impact statements will likely exaggerate that tendency by explicitly presenting the jury with the victim's characteristics. Lastly, it argues that the increasing influence of victim impact statements will encourage prosecutors to adjust their decisions on plea bargaining and seeking the death penalty based on the character of the victim. Part IV presents the major arguments in favor of victim impact statements, and concludes that none of these arguments justifies incorporating victim evidence into the sentencing proceeding.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Thou Shalt Not Kill Any Nice People: The Problem of Victim Impact Statements in Capital Sentencing
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.