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The Value of Victim Impact Statements

My friend Prof. Erin Sheley of the University of Calgary Law School has a forthcoming paper (in the Brooklyn Law Review) discussing a new lens on the value of victim impact statements.  VIS have long been debated in the law; defendants understandably want their victims muzzled, supposedly in the name of due process but actually in the name of hiding the destruction their behavior wreaks.  

The abstract of Erin's paper, noted at SSRN, states:

Victim impact statements (VIS) are long-disfavored among legal commentators for allegedly injecting unnecessary, negative emotion into sentencing at the expense of the defendant, with ambiguous informational benefits to the sentencing body. Most traditional arguments both for and against VIS turn on purely retributive or utilitarian grounds. This essay takes up the Stanford sexual assault victim's statement to propose an expressive framework for understanding the function of VIS, which resolves much of the theoretical confusion surrounding the traditional justifications. I show how the expressive goals of criminal punishment have long been distorted by the mediation of traditional news reporting. I then analyze the legal relevance of the particular criminological values expressed in the Stanford statement to show how unmediated victim narratives may counterbalance media distortion, particularly in the age of social media transmission. I conclude that the criminal justice system better serves its expressive function by formally incorporating VIS into sentencing.

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