Victim Impact Statements and “Ancillary Harm” from a Crime

Along with Professor Edna Erez, I have just published this article on victim impact statements.  It is discusses the concept of “ancillary harm” as a legitimate basis for courts using victim impact statements to determine criminal sentence.  Here is an abstract:

A recent article by Julian Roberts and Marie Manikis argues that the concept of “ancillary harm” explains why victim impact statements are useful at sentencing. Drawing on a recent decision from the Quebec Court of Appeals, they contend that impact statements help a judge assess foreseeable harm caused to a victim’s family member and others – “ancillary harm” – for which the defendant is properly held accountable under conventional retributive principles.

In this response, we bring an American perspective to bear on these issues, finding much in the American crime victims’ literature and court decisions to support the Robert-Manikis thesis. For example, at the recent sentencing of Bernie Madoff, the sentencing judge referenced ancillary harm as an important factor. A number of cases have reached similar conclusions. While not using the phrase “ancillary harm” to justify their actions, the court decisions make clear that foreseeable harm to others is an important consideration at sentencing. The American cases also support a crime victim having a right to deliver a victim impact statement not only in writing, but also orally at the sentencing hearing itself. Crime victims, however, should not be cross-examined when delivering their statement. Instead, the court should insure the reliability of information contained in a victim impact statement in other ways, as a number of decisions recognize.

The section on the Bernie Madoff sentencing may be of interest to some readers.  It pulls together some interesting examples of the victim impact statements bringing to a judge’s attention the far reaching consequences of a crime that might not otherwise be apparent.   I have previously provided a more general defense of victim impact statements in this article here.

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