Victims speaking at trials?

Discussion in 'Off-Topic Chat' started by Pythagoras, Sep 5, 2005.

  1. Pythagoras

    Pythagoras Active Member

    New government initiative to allow the victims family to speak before sentencing at murder trials.
    what do people think?

    Personally I think its a really stupid as its basically implying that murdering somebody with a family who can come and speak movingly about them, is worse than murdering someone who lives on their own and has no friends. Also it will risk our courts becoming like American show trials which are played for TV rather than justice.
  2. DublinBass

    DublinBass Supporting Member

    I don't think it is a good idea as they add no real substance to the prosecution or defence. Just because a family is very upset doesn't mean the person on trial is more responsible for the death and I think it could lead to more incorrect convictions.

    TIMBONE Active Member

    This could possibly be therapeutic for the victim's family, as it gives them an opportunity to express their grief to the offender and the court. I think that it is important however, for the victim's family to realise that a) the judge is governed by jurisdiction as to what the maximum sentence can be and b) the perpretator of the crime in the majority of cases has no remorse and feels fully justified in what they did, they may even smile mockingly, which could make the victim's families feel even worse.
  4. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    I'm all in favour of some form of involvement from victims of crime and their relatives, but I do not feel the court hearing itself is the right time or place. If they wish to offer any mitigation, there already is the possiblity of doing this via counsel and any reports that may be requested prior to sentencing.
  5. sparkling_quavers

    sparkling_quavers Active Member

    I agree with Peter - I think it is an important tool but not during the trial, perhaps after sentencing has taken place?
  6. Rapier

    Rapier Supporting Member

    Silly idea! Some families are the 'forgiving' type and would be more upset that their 'forgiveness' wasn't shared by the Judge. Or those seeking revenge would be annoyed that the Judge gave what, in their view, was a lenient sentence. Would the articulate get the result they wanted, more so than the less articulate?

    The Death Penalty was removed with the promise that a Life sentence would replace it. Now a life sentence means about 10 years and probably out in around 6. What this Government needs is less spin and more proper sentencing that actually matches the crime.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 6, 2005
  7. bruceg

    bruceg Active Member

    So long as it happens after the accused has been found guilty then I have no real problem with it happening though I don't think the families will actually get much out of it for all of the reasons already stated.
  8. Pythagoras

    Pythagoras Active Member

    There actually bringing this in now on a trial basis at 5 courts.
  9. Cornishwomble

    Cornishwomble Active Member

    It's not the courts job to be therapeutic but to ensure justice is done. The family normally get their chance via the media, I understand that the families will be going through hell and want to vent their grief but the justice system must be seen to be fair and balanced
  10. brasscrest

    brasscrest Active Member

    Some background on the American system:

    American criminal trials are in two phases: the guilt phase, in which the jury is tasked with deciding whether or not the accused is guilty, and the penalty phase, in which the jury is tasked with deciding facts which may influence the person's sentence.

    It is in the penalty phase that victim impact is assessed. Victims/families often testify in this phase. The guilty party is also allowed to present evidence of mitigating factors at this point.

    Depending on the state or jurisdiction of the court, the decision of the jury as to the facts in the penalty phase is more or less binding on the sentencing judge. What the judge cannot do in the American system is consider facts that have not been either admitted by the accused in open court or found as true by the jury when assessing the sentence - there have been a large number of cases in recent years overturning sentences for "judicial fact-finding". In the American system, only the jury can act as the finder of fact for a criminal trial (in either phase) unless the accused expressly waives their right to trial by jury.

    Victim impact consideration was originally brought in to balance the scales a bit - in American trials, the guilty could always argue mitigating factors but the victims had to remain silent. It has, in high-profile cases, been a way for the prosecutors to do a lot of grandstanding.
  11. Rapier

    Rapier Supporting Member

    Yes, but you lot found O.J.Simpson innocent. ;)
  12. bigmamabadger

    bigmamabadger Active Member

    Unless there's going to be a two-part trial as BrassCrest describes, surely bringing in the victim's family also pre-supposes the defendant's guilt?
    Wouldn't work for me unless I was allowed to beat 7 shades out of the little scrote while a couple of burly guards held him down.
  13. brasscrest

    brasscrest Active Member

    One of the great problems with the current American system in such trials is that the defense can spend as much time and effort as they wish, while the prosecution is somewhat restrained. In the Simpson case, the prosecuting attorneys were clearly outclassed by the highly-paid defense attorneys.

    Also Simpson was not found "innocent". He was found "not guilty" - that is, the prosecution did not prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, in the eyes of the jury.

    In the later civil trial for wrongful death, which has a lower standard of proof ("clear and convincing evidence"), he was judged responsible for the deaths and must pay restitution to the families.

    Returning to the topic of the thread, Simpson did not have to face victim family testimony in the criminal trial, because he was not subjected to a guilty verdict.

    One question regarding the British system - in a criminal trial, does the jury have any role in sentencing, or does their role end with the verdict?
  14. andyp

    andyp Active Member

    AFAIK the jury merely decides guilt, the judge always does the sentencing. Problem is a lot of them seem to be somewhat out of touch with reality. As Rapier says, capital punishment was abolished with a promise that life meant life. Now it means 12 years or less and out in 8. Until this country makes punishments for crimes against the person worse than punishment for crimes against property, justice will continue not to be done IMO.
  15. brasscrest

    brasscrest Active Member

    So the victim testimony would be for the judge only, then. In the US system the jury hears the victim testimony also as a part of the penalty phase of the trial.

    I wonder how effective it would be just for the judge to hear the victim testimony. As you say, many of them are out of touch with reality (same thing over here).
  16. EIBB_Ray

    EIBB_Ray Member

    I believe this varies state to state. I don't think Iowa (for example) has any jury set or recommended sentencing. Juries determine guilt and judges pass sentence. I think we have victim impact statements heard at sentencing and as you said earlier, I think the original purpose was to counteract defenses mitigating circumstances regarding sentencing, to give judges a fuller picture before passing sentence. I think in practice its become mostly a "venting" for the family. I doubt it makes much difference to the judge and probably doesn't make a fiend suddenly repentant. In some cases I think forgiving families have gotten judges to show more leniency than they otherwise whould have shown. So it makes you wonder, in those cases, was societal justice served?

    Sorry, for all the "I thinks" and "I believes" just want to be clear that this is my understanding of the system, but if someone else has better sources, by all means, I defer.
  17. clare_euph

    clare_euph Member

    Victims already are able to make "Victim Impact Statements", which talk the judge may or may not read out. However, the purpose of a trial is to establish guilt, so any statement surely ought to be made after that guilt is decided to the requisite level. It may be useful for the families of victims to get their side of the story heard......but still pretty unsure about it all!! Think these things depend on the circumstances of the case....

    TIMBONE Active Member

    BRASSCREST, I remember the Louise Woodward trial in 1996, when the judge overturned the jurys' verdict of 2nd degree murder. He reduced it to manslaughter, and imposed a sentence of the number of days she had already served on remand.
  19. brasscrest

    brasscrest Active Member

    It all depends on the case and the specific state law whether that sort of amendment is permitted (it is called a "lesser included offense" modification). In that one, the defense made a standard motion challenging the sufficiency of the evidence after the trial was complete, which the judge granted. In some states, that type of modification could only be done by an appellate court.

    Also, the entire system of sentencing in the US has been changed since 1996, with two landmark Supreme Court decisions (Blakely vs. Washington and United States vs. Booker) that have applied the Federal sentencing guidelines to state court proceedings and made those guidelines advisory rather than compulsory. One of those effects was that judges can no longer make a sentence more severe except on facts found by the jury or admitted by the guilty party. And the judge is constrained by statutory minimums when reducing a sentence. The judges still have a great say, but there has been a big push in the US to make sentencing more uniform over various jurisdictions.

    Also, in the American system, the accused has more rights than the accuser - for example, someone who has been found guilty can appeal their conviction, but the government (in most cases) can not appeal a finding of not guilty.
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2006

Share This Page