Of all the 50 States, we know by reputation that Texas doesn’t mess around, in particular when it comes to executions. They rank #1 with 522 state executions since 1982, and six thus far in 2015. Compared to other states, Texas takes a hard line.
When their victim impact statement packet is examined from a formatting standpoint, it appears to me, a homicide survivor, to be thorough.
Texas is an “opt in” state for crime victims in choosing to receive “cafeteria style” services from a list versus granting all services automatically and asking a family to “opt out” of those services they are not interested in.
A useful feature of their packet highlights how under which circumstances a victim impact statement is used.
- PROSECUTOR: Considers VIS before entering a plea agreement; Considers VIS before to determine restitution (if requested)
- JUDGE: Considers VIS before imposing sentence by judge (No jury hers it.) Considers VIS before accepting a plea deal;
- DEFENSE: (EXCLUDING Confidential Info Sheet. Includes notification preferences and personal demographic info.) The Defense “may see” VIS with the court’s approval and may introduce evidence or testimony regarding content accuracy;
- PROBATION DEPARTMENT: “Has access” to VIS;
- TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE: As part of the process, if the defendant is sentenced to prison, the VIS is forwarded to the TDCJ;
- BOARD OF PARDONS & PAROLE: The BP&P will “consider the VIS” prior to rendering a decision whether to release the prisoner to parole supervision or to retain.
If we examine the language, some parties “consider,” others “may see” while still others only “forward.” It would appear that not everyone in the system has equal weight, as it should be, with the judge as the final authority.
Next, the packet includes “dry” statutory definitions and a list of general victim rights followed by rights concerning victims of sexual assault.
- Receive adequate protection from harm and threats of harm arising from cooperation with prosecution efforts;
- have their safety considered by the magistrate when setting bail;
- receive information, on request, of relevant court proceedings, including appellate proceedings, of cancellations and rescheduling prior to the event, and appellate court decisions after the decisions are entered but before they are made public;
- be informed, when requested, by a peace officer about the defendant’s right to bail and criminal investigation procedures, and from the prosecutor’s office about general procedures in the criminal justice system, including plea agreements, restitution, appeals and parole;
- provide pertinent information concerning the impact of the crime to the probation department prior to sentencing;
- information about the Texas Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund and payment for a medical examination for a victim of sexual assault, and, on request, referral to social service agencies that provide additional assistance;
- information, on request, about parole procedures; notification of parole proceedings and of the inmate’s release; and the opportunity to participate in the parole process by submitting written information to the Board of Pardons and Paroles for inclusion in the defendant’s file for consideration by the Board prior to parole;
- a separate or secure waiting area at all public court proceedings;
- prompt return of any property that is no longer needed as evidence;
- have the prosecutor notify, upon request, an employer that the need for the victim’s testimony may involve the victim’s absence from work;
- on request, counseling and testing regarding AIDS and HIV infection and testing for victims of sexual assault
- request victim-offender mediation coordinated by the Victim Services Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice;
- be informed of the use and purpose of a victim impact statement, to complete a victim impact statement and to have the statement considered before sentencing and acceptance of a plea bargain and before an inmate is released on parole.
A victim, guardian of a victim, or close relative of a deceased victim may be present at all public court proceedings, with the consent of the presiding judge;
A judge, attorney for the state, peace officer, or law enforcement agency is not liable for a failure or inability to provide a service enumerated herein.
Victims should also know that they can have a victim advocate accompany them during the sexual assault exam if an advocate is available at the time of the examination.
Please call your crime victim services contacts in law enforcement and the prosecutor’s office for more information about victim services in your community.
Contents of the Confidential Information Sheet
- Basic identifying info regarding the defendant;
- Instructions and brief checklist regarding the effect that the crime had on the victim and family;
- Victim’s Name; 19 item Checklist with emotionally related feelings (i.e. Changes in sleep pattern, anger, depression, fear of strangers etc.)
- Question – if counseling has been sought, with the opportunity to write a narrative about the family member’s “thoughts, feelings and general well-being”.
- Narrative Section for Physical Injuries suffered due to the crime, asking the extent of injuries, longevity and location of treatment received;
- Financial Loss Section- Requests the type of losses incurred with a brief checklist including inquiry re victim compensation and the recommendation of keeping a log
- Final signature and Date
There is no mention, nor can I find legislative effort for Texas families to provide photos of their loved one during these vitally important events. This may exist if requeste, I just could not locate any evidence in my search that it is part of the procedure.
MISSING- Any recommendation to “paint the picture” using a description of who the deceased victim was as a person, as a member of the family, his/her previous contributions, talents, hopes, dreams, missed opportunities! No mention is made to provide a videotaped statement by significant family members who cannot physically attend or who may be elderly, frail and pass on in the future and want to have their wishes documented.
It’s like baking a cake and omitting the flour!
Finding the Missing Piece
One of the remaining avenues for crime victims to have a voice within the courts is through victim impact statements. Victim impact statements are usually read after trial as a way to get into the record the impact of the crime on the victims along with their friends and families.
Creating the appropriate victim impact statement can be a daunting task for families during one of the most traumatic times in their lives. After the initial loss, the journey through the judicial system can be equally frustrating, time-consuming and emotionally draining, re-traumatizing and bringing grief back to the surface. To best utilize the victims’ right to present a victim impact statement at trial, you must be clear-headed and as objective as possible, which for the crime victim is next to impossible.
I provide a professional Victim Impact Statement Assistance Service for surviving victims that may be too emotionally distraught, or may not have the ability to correctly express their feelings.
If you are in the above situation, please go to Victim Impact Statement Assistance Service for more information and my credentials.