Crime: The Domino Effect
The domino effect causes a sequence of reactions where a reactive product or by-product causes additional reactions to take place. It typically refers to a linked sequence of events where the time between successive events is relatively small.
And so it goes… when crime occurs… the dominoes fall…
Where did the Victim Impact Statement Begin?
Paying homage to the person credited with giving the first official victim impact statement.
Doris Gwendolyn Tate (January 16, 1924 – July 10, 1992) was an advocate for the rights of crime victims following the murder of her daughter, actress Sharon Tate. She worked to raise public awareness about the United States corrections system and was influential in the amendment of California laws relating to the victims of violent crime.
Doris Tate was born in Houston Texas, and mother of three daughters. In 1969, Sharon, was at the beginning of a film career, and married to film director Roman Polanski. Eight months pregnant with their first child, Tate and four others were murdered at the Polanski’s’ rented Beverly Hills home in a case that was sensationalized throughout the world.
The killers were eventually identified as Charles “Tex “Watson, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel, acting on behalf of the leader of their group, Charles Manson.
All four were found guilty of the murders and sentenced to death, along with Lesley Van Houten, who had not participated in the murder of the Tate victims, but had participated in the murder of a Los Angeles couple the following night.
The death sentences were overturned before they could be applied. when the State of California temporarily abolished the death penalty.
For more than a decade after the murders, Doris Tate battled depression and unable to discuss her daughter’s death.
The Turning Point:
In 1982, Doris was told that Leslie Van Houten had obtained 900 signatures supporting her quest to achieve parole. Tate mounted a public campaign against Van Houten, winning the support of the National Enquirer, which printed coupons for people to sign and send to Doris With more than 350,000 signatures, Tate demonstrated that a considerable number of people opposed Van Houten’s parole, which was denied.
She later became an active member of the Victim Offender Reconciliation and Justice for Homicide Victims groups. She founded COVER, the Coalition on Victim’s Equal Rights, and served on the California State Advisory Committee on Correctional Services as a victims’ representative.
She was part of a group that worked toward the passage of Proposition 8, the Victim’s Rights Bill, which was passed in 1982. It allowed the presentation of victim impact statements during the sentencing of violent attackers.
Tate became the first Californian to make such a statement after the law was passed, when she spoke at the parole hearing of one of her daughter’s killers.
In 1984 she ran for the California State Assembly as an advocate for victim’s rights. Though unsuccessful,, she continued to campaign for changes to existing laws, and was involved in the passage of Proposition 89, which allowed the governor of the state to overturn decisions made by the Board of Prison Terms.
Tate’s assessment of Manson, Watson, Atkins, Krenwinkel and Van Houten concluded that their crimes were so vicious as to warrant execution. While addressing Charles Watson at his 1984 parole hearing, she said,
“What mercy, sir, did you show my daughter when she was begging for her life? What mercy did you show my daughter when she said, “Give me two weeks to have my baby and then you can kill me?
When will Sharon come up for parole? Will these seven victims and possibly more walk out of their graves if you get paroled? You cannot be trusted”. She confronted Watson again at his 1990 parole hearing. The Doris Tate Crime Victim’s Bureau
Explaining the Overall Impact of Victim Impact Statement
You want to convey the journey and the overall toll it has taken from many perspectives-emotionally, psychologically, physically, financially, your outlook on life currently and projecting into the future, your wishes regarding the disposition of the perpetrator, and changes to the system which negatively impacted and/or re-victimized you or alternately, your satisfaction with how you were treated.
Familiarizing the deciding body with the victim
It is imperative that you provide a complete portrayal of your loved one both visually and narratively, as this may be your sole opportunity for several years (several years up until the point of your initial court or parole appearance or several years until you obtain another opportunity!) Talk about who your loved one was beyond the crime; their assets, talents, what they contributed to the family and to others and their aspirations for the future that were taken away.
Expressing Fear for Your Personal Safety
This is one of your Constitutional rights, currently in 33 states and under the Federal Statute – Crime Victim’s Right’s Act enacted in October 2004: The right to be reasonably protected.
Example- State of Connecticut Constitution Article XXIX – Rights of Victims of Crime
In all criminal prosecutions, a victim, as the general assembly may define by law, shall have the following rights:
- The right to be treated with fairness and respect throughout the criminal justice process;
- The right to timely disposition of the case following arrest of the accused, provided no right of the accused is abridged;
- The right to be reasonably protected from the accused throughout the criminal justice process;
- The right to notification of court proceedings;
- The right to attend the trial and all other court proceedings the accused has the right to attend, unless such person is to testify and the court determines that such person’s testimony would be materially affected if such person hears other testimony;
- The right to communicate with the prosecution;
- The right to object to or support any plea agreement entered into by the accused and the prosecution and to make a statement to the court prior to the acceptance by the court of the plea of guilty or nolo contendere by the accused (i.e. A plea made by the defendant in a criminal action that is substantially but not technically an admission of guilt and subjects the defendant to punishment but permits denial of the alleged facts in other proceedings.);
- The right to make a statement to the court at sentencing;
- The right to restitution which shall be enforceable in the same manner as any other cause of action or as otherwise provided by law;
- The right to information about the arrest, conviction, sentence, imprisonment and release of the accused.
Restitution is payment by the offender to the victim to cover some or all of the costs associated with a crime. It is ordered by a judge and usually paid through the Court Support Services Division, or other entity within your state…To request restitution in a criminal court case, contact the State’s Attorney Office or the OVS victim services advocate, located in the court where the criminal case will be prosecuted.
Social Security Administration
Victims or their family members may be eligible for survivor benefits, Medicare, and other social security benefits. For more information, please call the Social Security Administration (SSA) toll-free at 800-772-1213, TTD: 800-325-0778, or visit the Social Security Administration website.
Workers’ Compensation Commission
Available to employees through their employers, workers’ compensation provides wage replacement benefits and medical treatment for injuries that occurred in the workplace or on company property. For more information, call the Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC) toll-free, in Connecticut only, 800-223-9675 or visit the Worker’s Compensation Commission website.
“Revenge” Emotional Release
Whether you call it “revenge” or “emotional release” or “venting,” there is some latitude given here…as opposed to the criminal court process in which a poker face must be maintained with no emotion allowed whatsoever or you will be banished from the court… It is normal to have emotion and to show your sorrow and anger….
Adding Information to the Criminal Proceeding
Parole/Pardons Board You may have relevant information pertaining to the defendant for the court or parole/pardons board which can influence the ultimate length or provisions of sentencing. It is important that this information be shared and part of the record. [Ladyjustice- As per Atty. M. Cruz, crime victims are not given the opportunity to provide a victim impact statement during civil trials because the attorney represents the interests of the victim directly in civil proceedings (and could argue for damages on their behalf )… WHEREAS in a criminal trial, prosecutors represent the interests of the State and not the victims directly].
Your information could be the determining factor in whether the defendant stays in prison or not. Ladyjustice attended a parole hearing several years ago on behalf of a victim’s family in New Haven, in which following the presentation of the parent’s victim impact statements, the perpetrator was given an additional 10 year sentence!! This also occurred with a friend’s case whose brother was murdered California! You may think that the outcome is always pre-determined… BUT there are those instances in which you CAN effect significant change…
Educating Judicial Officials Regarding Victim’s Constitutional Rights:
It is more the exception than the rule that the victim’s rights are known, acknowledged and enforced in whichever arena …. You have to be your own advocate and educate others, obtain an attorney who has expertise in crime victim rights. Even when you “have your ducks in arrow” you probably will have to fight for those rights as you encounter resistance. NEVER ASSUME THEY KNOW AND WILL ENFORCE! My personal experience is a prime example.
A Forum to Express Forgiveness
(In a small percentage of cases) Whether we collectively or individually agree, regardless of the heinous acts of violence resulting in maiming or taking of a life(s), there are those victims who have the capacity to forgive …even murderers because of their strong religious beliefs. I say you may have a straight shot to heaven for this more than generous act.
Issues Relating to Victim Impact Statements
In the Intervening Years
Hypothetically, a perpetrator is sentenced to 25 to 50 years. Are they actually going to serve all of that time? The answer is “No.” In very general terms, it’s usually the mandatory minimum, perhaps 80% of the sentence in combination with other factors such as” earned good time,” depending on the state and whether determinant sentencing or indeterminate sentencing was ”the yardstick” at the time; whether there were mistakes made in the prosecution and potential issues for appeal and the fact that now the rules have changed.So, law enforcement should never make promises to families about the perp “never getting out.”
What should the family do to prepare in those intervening years? What they should do and what they are able to do are two different matters….
Large proportions of victims put “it“ away in the corner of their minds and don’t want to think about it until and unless they have to. Those of us who are in “the business” of victim advocacy are different, as we have a different personal investment and reasons for staying involved. Those victims who chose not to stay engaged and seemingly “move on with their lives” until the boom drops, they get the call or letter and the dominoes begin to fall.
A likely scenario is that they suddenly panic, or are steadfast in their anger and resentment, “Why should I change anything in my life when he is the criminal, not me?”
This is a normal “self preservation type reaction. They are fearful and angry of the impact for which they have no control. They feel that they are not responsible to do anything for they never asked for this to occur. This is all true, however, it is cliché.
A Few Suggestions:
- If you cannot or choose not to be involved with what will occur in the intervening years, you must not live “in a dream world,” thinking it’s over for good.
- Accept the possibility that you may have won the battle, but not the war….
- Be vigilant…. You do not have to immerse yourself in crime victim issued daily…. But you must have a working knowledge of the process, your case and the potential for it to “rise up out of the ashes” again
- Hire an attorney who is skilled regarding crime victim issues or seek out pro bono legal
- Services in your state: http://apps.americanbar.org/legalservices/probono/directory.html http://www.probono.net/about/
- Seek out your local victim advocate and get to know that person on a first name basis and call when needed
- Chose another family representative who is better suited to represent the family for notifications and “being the ‘go to” person;
- Keep track of your feelings over time in a personal notebook or journal in the event that your presence is significantly needed to provide an impact statement at a hearing
- If you are provided alternatives for housing for your health and safety…. Take them….
- Although you are not the criminal…. You should not pay the ultimate e price with your life… for then the perpetrator has won again! This is not easy or easily said,.. However, life is not fair many times and we have to do this for our own healing.
Should I or Should I Not Attend a Sentencing or Hearing?
According to Michelle S. Cruz, Attorney and Crime Victim Advocate, time has not been a true friend to victims when it comes to misinformation by prosecutors and other judicial persons providing advice. Even in November 2013, their attitude is cavalier on this matter, frequently telling victims,(regardless of the type of case, ”Oh, you don’t have to bother…It’s no big deal…)
How many times have we heard that one and then it turned out to be a significant event. Whether for expediency or laziness, victims need to decide if they should be there as part of their rights and never be told “It’s not as big deal.” Information is power. Your option is always to have your assigned victim advocate or your private attorney appear on your behalf and report directly what transpired.
How Far We’ve Come:
Judges and juries care about what you have been through. It hasn’t always been that way.
Victim advocate Jo Kolanda describes a sentencing hearing she attended in the 1970’s:
“I went to court for the sentencing of a defendant who had been convicted of homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle. With me were the mom and dad of the young woman he killed. The offender’s parents, friends, and pastor told the court what a wonderful guy he was. The victim’s parents asked the assistant district attorney to ask the judge if they could tell the court about their daughter. The judge said they could not because . “It would be inflammatory.” Then he added that….. “He couldn’t understand why this simple traffic case was cluttering up his court calendar in the first place.”
[Reference: Janice Harris Lord, ACSW-LMSW/LPC For Mothers Against Drunk Driving Copyright © 2003 Mothers Against Drunk Driving, James Rowland, founder of the Victim Impact Statement; Anne Seymour of Justice Solutions in Washington, D.C et.al]
Key Federal Victims’ Rights Legislation
1974 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act
1980 Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act
1982 Victim and Witness Protection Act
1982 Missing Children’s Act
1984 Victims of crime act
1984 Justice Assistance Act
1984 Missing Children’s Assistance Act
1984 Family Violence Prevention and Services Act
1985 Children’s Justice Act
1988 Drunk Driving Prevention Act
1990 Hate Crime Statistics Act
1990 Victims of Child Abuse Act
1990 Victims’ Rights and Restitution Act
1990 National Child Search Assistance Act
1992 Battered Women’s Testimony Act
1993 Child Sexual Abuse Registry Act
1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act
1994 Violence against Women act
1996 Community Notification Act (“Megan’s Law”)
1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act
1996 Mandatory Victims’ Restitution Act
1997 Victims’ Rights Clarification Act
1998 Crime Victims with Disabilities Awareness Act
1998 Identity Theft and Deterrence Act
2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act
2001 Air Transportation Safety and System Stabiliza-
tion Act (established September 11th Victim Compensation Fund)
2003 PROTECT Act (“Amber Alert” law)
2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act
2003 Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act
2004 Justice for all act including Title I The Scott Campbell, Stephanie Roper, Wendy Preston,
Louarna Gillis, and Nila Lynn Crime Victims’ Rights Act
2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act
2010 Tribal Law and Order Act
Victim Impact Statements: A Piece of Justice