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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sudden Impact: New Illinois Public Act Will Permit Admission Of Victim Impact Statements Against Defendants Found Not Guilty By Reason Of Insanity

Traditionally (but not exclusively), a victim impact statement has been "a statement read into the record during sentencing to inform the judge or jury of the financial, physical, and psychological impact of the crime on the victim and the victim's family." Black's Law Dictionary 1598 (8th ed. 2004) As the Supreme Court put it in Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808, 825 (1991), a victim impact statement is a "form or method of informing the sentencing authority about the specific harm caused by the crime in question, evidence of a general type long considered by sentencing authorities." But what should happen when a defendant is found not guilty by reason of insanity and being committed rather than sentenced? Should victim impact statements be allowed in this situation as well? The answer is "yes" according to a new Public Act signed into law by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn.

Public Act 96-117, which will take effect in Illinois on January 1, 2010, amends the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code to permit courts to hear victim impact statements at the initial commitment hearing when a defendant has been found not guilty by reason of insanity. Specifically, courts in this situation will be able to consider these statements to determine: (1) the threat of harm that the defendant poses to himself and others, (2) the location of inpatient or outpatient services, and (3) the maximum period of commitment for inpatient services and conditions of release for outpatient services.

Certain groups, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, were opposed to the Public Act, with executive director Lora Thomas saying that she didn't think it was necessary and would only "reinforce negative aspects of mental illness" rather than putting the focus on getting the offender the help he or she needs.

Frankly, I don't know what I think. There's something that strikes me as wrong about the Public Act, but that might just be my dislike of victim impact statements, or at least what they have become (see my prior posts herehere, and here). I will probably have some further thoughts after considering the issue some more, but I was wondering whether any readers wanted to weigh in at this point.

(Hat tip to Marilyn Thomas for the link)

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2009/08/traditionally-but-not-exclusively-a-victim-impact-statement-has-been-a-statement-read-into-the-record-during-sentencing-to.html

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