Creating a compelling victim impact statement

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

A victim impact statement consists of a written or oral statement by a victim of a crime or civil infraction detailing how the incident affected them, their life, their work and their family. The purpose of this impact statement is to give the judge and jury in the case a better sense for the human cost of someone’s wrongdoing and to assist them in deciding on an appropriate sentence.

Victim impact statements are important because in many cases, victims do not testify themselves in court because of how close they are to the crime. As victims, they may not be able to think clearly about the events that happened. If they are called to the stand, they must respond in specific, directed answers rather than get off-topic regarding the full ramifications of the incident in their lives.

What to include in an impact statement

Because an impact statement will be the judge’s only chance to see you as a human being, you will want to tell the whole story and think about how it affected you on all levels. While it is unadvised to be over-the-top, you should explain, simply and concisely, the physical, emotional, financial, social, psychological or other damages that you suffered.

The impact statement is also the place to include any restitution you believe you deserve as well as your views on the crime, alleged offender or even appropriate sentence. Consult with your lawyer or a victim advocate on what you are allowed to include regarding the alleged offender, however, because the laws are different in every state.

How to create your impact statement

Impact statements may be submitted either orally or on paper. Both forms are equally valid, so you should choose the format in which you feel more comfortable expressing yourself. Be sure to only include what you believe to be true, as a defendant is allowed to challenge the validity of your statement, and you will want it to be as solid as possible.

The majority of your statement should be written in simple sentences describing the facts of what happened and how you were affected. Details are important, but don’t get bogged down in superlatives, adverbs or other more flowery language. If you must register an impression, be sure to couch it in terms like, “I believed…” or “I felt…” rather than more definitive statements like “The offender was…”, as you are less likely to be challenged on your impressions.

Consult with a lawyer for help creating a compelling victim impact statement, or find a victim advocate in your area for assistance through the process.

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