The Prejudicial Nature of Victim Impact Statements: Implications for Capital Sentencing Policy

By Edith Greene / Bryan Myers / Psychology, Public Policy and Law, on 1 January 2004

Victim impact evidence is presented during sentencing hearings to convey the harm experienced by victims and victims’ relatives as a result of a crime. Its use in capital cases is highly controversial. Some argue that the Supreme Court’s decision to allow the admission of victim impact statements (VIS) during capital sentencing proceedings (Payne v. Tennessee, 1991) invites prejudice and judgments based on emotion rather than reason. Others reason that it provides an important voice for survivors and affords the jury an opportunity to learn about the victim. The authors outline the chief psychological issues that arise in the context of VIS, including their relevance to jurors’ judgments of blameworthiness, concerns that the social worth of the victim will influence jurors’ sentencing decisions, and issues related to the emotional appeal of VIS. Psycholegal research on the influence of VIS on mock jurors is reviewed, and implications of this work for capital sentencing policy and suggested directions for future research are discussed.

  • Document type Article
  • Countries list United States
  • Themes list Fair Trial, Murder Victims' Families,