Victim Impact Statements in DUI/DWI Cases

Victim Impact Statements in DUI/DWI Cases

Increased public awareness of the crime victim's needs has led to concern for the "rights" of crime victims. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan designated the week of April 19th as "Victims Rights Week." In 1982, he established the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime (Task Force), whose mandate was to suggest better ways to treat victims and to propose victims' rights legislation. The Task Force proposed that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution be modified to accord the victim in every criminal prosecution the right to be present and to be heard at all critical stages of judicial proceedings. In response to this proposal, a task force of the National Organization for Victim Assistance suggested an alternative amendment to the United States Constitution. Thereafter, concerned citizens formed the National Victims' Constitutional Amendment Network to secure a federal Constitutional amendment. This amendment proposed that the a crime victim or representative be given the right to be informed of, to be present at, and to be heard at all criminal justice proceedings at which the defendant has such rights, subject to the same rules of evidence which govern the defendants rights. Since that time, various groups have been lobbying for state and federal legislation designed to protect the rights of crime victims. Their labor has produced substantial pro-victim legislation. Of the 50 states, only 18 states that still have not enacted constitutional amendments to protect victim's rights: Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Victim impact statements are typically addressed in cases involving drunk driving accidents resulting in serious injury or death. Such offenses are charged as felonies, punishable by incarceration of up to five to seven years in the case of injury and up to 30 years in the case of death.

''Victim impact'' evidence aids the jury (or trial judge) in meaningfully assessing the defendant's moral culpability and blameworthiness, and it may be seen by the states as being relevant to the sentencer's decision over the type of penalty that should be imposed. Thus, if a state chooses to permit the introduction of ''victim impact'' evidence, it is not prohibited by the Eighth Amendment from doing so, and the evidence will be inadmissible only if it is so unduly prejudicial that it renders the trial fundamentally unfair in violation of due process.

The statement presents the effect of the loss or injury on the victim's friends, loved ones, and community as a whole. It is not necessary for the victim to present evidentiary material in support of his statement. The purpose of the victim impact statement is to apprise the trial court of the economic loss suffered by the victim and identify any physical injury, any change in the victim's personal welfare or familial relationship, and any psychological impact experienced by the victim or the victim's family as a result of the offense.