VICTIM IMPACT STATEMENTS
As a crime victim, do you ever feel like you don't have a voice or a say in the criminal justice system? You do! Your tool to making your voice heard is the Victim Impact Statement (VIS).
What is a VIS?
Crime affects everyone in a different way. Additionally, many people have varying desires for punishment for the defendant. A VIS is your chance to tell the judge in your case how the crime has affected you and what you think should happen to the defendant.
How do I make a VIS?
The most common way to make a VIS is to write a letter to the judge. You do not need to know the judge's name. You can simply address your letter Honorable Judge. Your letter should be typed if possible but it can be handwritten if it is easy to read.
Another common method is to be present at sentencing and to make a verbal statement addressing the judge. In this case, you simply need to be present at sentencing. When the case is called, the judge will ask at some point whether there is someone who wants to speak on behalf of the victim. This is when you will speak. You will not be placed under oath, but naturally you are expected to tell the truth. Normally you will stand near the table where the prosecutor is standing. The Victim/Witness Coordinator can attend the sentencing hearing with you and stand next to you when you speak if requested.
There are other options as well. Some people choose to bring pictures of a victim who is not able to be present for one reason or another. You can also make a video or audiotape or even a PowerPoint presentation. If you choose to do this, be sure to let the Victim/Witness Unit know so the courtroom can be set up properly.
What should I Say?
There are many things to consider when making a VIS. Here are a few questions you might want to ask yourself:
Can someone else speak for me?
If you do not want to make a VIS yourself, you can have someone else speak on your behalf. This also means that parents can speak on behalf of their children if the children are victims and that a family member or friend can speak on behalf of a deceased victim. The Victim/Witness Coordinator or a Victim Advocate can also read a statement you have written to the court, although it is much more powerful if it comes directly from the victim.
What if I don't want to make a VIS?
No one is required to make a VIS, even though they are very useful.
What happens to my VIS after sentencing?
If the offender is sentenced to prison and in some other cases, your VIS will be sent to the Department of Corrections and reviewed when the release of the defendant is considered. Your VIS will also become part of the court record (if given verbally) and will remain a permanent part of the court file and the prosecutor's file.
- Your VIS should address the Judge. Remember at all times that you are talking or writing to the judge about how the crime has affected you and what you think should happen to the defendant. You do not need to know the name of the judge sentencing the defendant. You can simply begin your VIS with Honorable Judge. You are not allowed to use this opportunity to address any comments to the defendant. If you are making a verbal statement and begin to address comments to the defendant, the judge will stop you.
- Your VIS is part of the public record. This means that the defendant or any other person may see your VIS. If this is a concern for you, be sure not to include any identifying information in your VIS. Leave that on the cover sheet which will not be included in the public record.
- Maintain a copy of your VIS. The copy you present at court may become part of the record.
- Don't forget to include the defendant's name and case number on your VIS.
- Provide your written statement to the Victim/Witness Unit at least a week before sentencing if possible. This will give them ample time get your statement to the judge before the sentencing hearing, so that the judge can read your statement prior to sentencing.
- Ask the Victim/Witness Coordinator to find out what the sentencing range is for the defendant, so that you can ask for a sentence within that range.
- If you need special equipment or setup for your VIS, notify our office in advance.
- If you are having trouble deciding what to write in your VIS, check out the Sample VIS at the end of this section and the VIS Questions for Consideration. Remember that the Victim/Witness Coordinator or a Victim Advocate can also assist you in deciding what to include in your VIS or compiling it.
Read through the list and select the questions that apply to your case and which you want to or feel you can answer. Then answer the questions as best as you are able. These questions are meant to help you get your thoughts on paper. Once you have the thoughts on paper, you can group them into a logical order and compile your VIS. Remember, the Victim/Witness Unit or a Victim Advocate is always available and willing to help you compile your VIS. If you require assistance, contact the Victim/Witness Unit at email@example.com or (509) 545-3543.
VIS QUESTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION:
Many thanks to Families and Friends of Violent Crime Victims who helped create many of these questions.
Please do not hesitate to contact the Victim/Witness Unit (509) 545-3543 or firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions or for assistance with your VIS.
SAMPLE VIS LETTER:
January 1, 2015
Victim Impact Statement
State of Washington v. John A. Doe
Franklin County Cause No. 15-1-50123-11
The actions of Mr. Doe have greatly affected my life. Since he committed this crime, I have been unable to sleep at night. I am constantly afraid that someone will break into my home and injure me again. I am no longer able to trust people like I did before. My children are also afraid. They do not want to go out in the yard to play because they fear the neighborhood, but now will not even go to the bus stop without me.
Mr. Doe's crime has also had a deep financial impact on our family. As we do not have insurance, we have been unable to replace the items broken when he broke into our home. Although Crime Victims Compensation has been covering our counseling and medical bills, the healing process is taking a long time. I had to miss six weeks of work, using all of my sick and vacation leave. Prior to this incident, I had rarely missed a day at work.
People should not be able to commit crimes like this and get away with it. The emotional and financial impact will be felt for years to come. I believe Mr. Doe needs to spend at least five years in prison for this crime. I know this is the first time he has committed a felony, and it's time that he be held accountable for his actions.
Very truly yours,
Jane A. Smith