Victim Impact Evidence on the Sentencing Phase

When a criminal defendant has been convicted of a criminal offense, especially a severe offense like a capital felony where one’s life is at stake, all factors should be considered to determine the defendant’s sentence. After the conviction stage of criminal proceedings, the defendant will next go through the sentencing phase where the criminal offense and the defendant’s background will be reviewed together to determine what sentence will be just and appropriate for the crime committed. The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution requires that all criminal defendants be free from cruel and unusual punishment, which generally is the foundation of our minimum sentencing standards. With guidelines, it is reasoned, the punishment will fit the crime. If you have been arrested for committing a capital offense and believe an unreasonably harsh sentence will be levied against you, you should contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.

Mitigating Circumstances and the Aggravating Factors in Florida

At the sentencing phase, and outlined by the Florida criminal statute, mitigating circumstances and aggravating factors are brought in to weigh against the capital felony committed and the possible sentences to determine what is fair and what fits with the crime. Mitigating circumstances may reveal that the criminal defendant, prior to this event, had no to limited criminal history or that defendant was under extreme emotional or mental pressure. Aggravating factors may reveal that the criminal defendant has an extensive criminal history of violent behavior or the criminal felony that was committed was done with little to no regard for the great risk that the crime posed to others. Mitigating circumstances and aggravating factors can tip the balance to determine, especially in a capital felony, whether the criminal defendant will live or die.

Victim Impact Evidence

In Florida, during the sentencing phase, the jury and judge may also be swayed by what is known as a victim impact evidence . The purpose of the victim impact evidence is to demonstrate to the judge and jury that the victim had a uniqueness that impacted the community and as such, there is a loss to the community due directly to the death of victim. The victim impact evidence may not include any opinion or depiction of the felony committed, there may be no characterization or opinion about the defendant, and the statement may not include a suggestion of the sentence that should be received by the defendant.

The Issues and Prejudicial Effect Surrounding Victim Impact Evidence

Victim impact evidence walks a tight and narrow line because of the possible prejudicial impact this evidence may have on the criminal defendant’s sentence. Having evidence that depicts the victim as a philanthropic saint may only prejudice the sentencing and make the jury/judge want to dole out a harsher sentence. Though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that these statements are permitted, each state may provide guidelines to determine how to temper these statements so that they are not impacting the sentence due to emotion. The purpose of victim impact evidence, whether intended or unintended, is to distinguish this victim from others and provide some context to understand the effect of this particular victim no longer being in the world.

Because of the highly prejudicial nature of victim impact evidence, Florida permits its inclusion but provides that a criminal defendant’s counsel may put forth a motion to exclude this type of evidence if the statement is only there to arouse emotion from and inflame the judge/jury to sentence retributively.

Please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.