The Citizen Victim: Reconciling the Public and Private in Criminal Sentencing
In recent decades, increased attention has been given to the place of the victim within criminal justice systems. Advocates have called for recognition and participation for victims of crime, and widespread political support throughout common law jurisdictions has resulted in a number of reforms. While some have proven uncontroversial, the question of victim input into sentencing decisions has emerged as a highly contentious issue within scholarship. Scholars have been concerned with the potentially corrupting influence of victims’ private preferences and dispositions on otherwise principled public decision-making. Exacerbating these concerns has been conceptual and normative ambiguity regarding the relationship of victims to public sentencing processes. Such questions relate to the proper relationship between individuals and public decision-making, and are thus usefully dealt with through political theory and the lens of citizenship. The present article applies deliberative democratic theory and argues that it accounts for scholars’ concerns while also providing direction through conceptual and normative clarity, reconciling in theoretical terms victim input with a public sentencing process. Moreover, it also argues that the framework highlights ways in which victims can make active contributions to processes of public deliberation by introducing novel perspectives and information, thereby enhancing the quality of sentencing decisions. Lastly, the article anticipates potential objections regarding the capacity of victims to meet civic standards in practice, pointing to a growing body of empirical research which suggests victims’ potential and emphasizes the importance of being attentive to questions of procedural design to realize it.
KeywordsCrime victims Deliberative democracy Sentencing Victim participation Citizenship
An earlier version of this article was presented at the Deliberative Governance and Law Workshop at McGill University in January 2018. I am grateful for the comments I received on that occasion, and am especially grateful to Marie Manikis and Hoi Kong, as well as Angela Campbell, Ron Levy, Sarah Berger Richardson, Stefanie Carsley, and Geoff Conrad for helpful feedback on previous versions. All errors are my own.