CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sheley on Victim Impact Statements and the Cultural Project of Punishment

Erin Leigh Sheley (Fellow, Georgetown University Law Center) has posted Reverberations of the Victim's 'Voice': Victim Impact Statements and the Cultural Project of Punishment (Indiana Law Journal, Vol. 87, 2012) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This article will argue that the current debate on the victim’s participation in the criminal sentencing process ignores how the complexity of a victim narrative effectively conveys the social experience of harm, without which the criminal justice system loses its legitimacy as a penal authority. In other words, we cannot only consider "the victim," "the defendant," and "the state" as three separate entities vying for narrative control over accounts of harm in determining punishment. Rather, the stories of the victims and defendants already circulate through society outside of the courtroom and the function of "the state" in the trial context is to vindicate the interests of this society. Notions about criminal "harm" enter the culture through the experiences of individuals, as well as through political rhetoric and media representations, and, once there, shape social norms about the assignment of blame. Therefore, if the sentencing process cannot accommodate the stories of actual harm to individual victims it runs the risk of either coming to be viewed as illegitimate to a society guided by these norms or allowing free reign for generic representations of criminal harm produced by political and media actors to take the place of individuated victim accounts in the mind of a fact-finder.

| Permalink


No offense, but this abstract makes the article seem like that much law review gobbledygook. I think victim impact statements are designed to ensure that (a) the victim is made to feel that their concerns matter and (b) to remind sentencers that the criminal has done some real harm. It's a check on criminal coddling judges and forces judges who are apt to hand down lenient sentences the discomfort of actually having to go against the stated wishes of people who have suffered. I don't think there's really much more than that.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 26, 2011 7:16:44 PM

Post a comment