Victim Impact Statements in Capital Sentencing: 25 Years Post-Payne

  • Bryan MyersEmail author
  • Sarah Johnson
  • Narina Nuñez
Part of the Advances in Psychology and Law book series (APL, volume 3)


Victim Impact Statements (VIS) in capital sentencing proceedings have been the subject of debate among justices in three critical U.S. Supreme Court decisions (Booth v. Maryland, 1987; South Carolina v. Gathers, (1989); Payne v. Tennessee, 1991), as well as among numerous legal commentators. The controversy surrounding VIS will be described in detail, focusing specifically on these critical decisions, in addition to outlining the arguments posited by legal scholars. The controversial issues concerning VIS largely address: (1) their relevance to blameworthiness and capacity to distract jurors from their principal role, and (2) their inflammatory appeal and potential to promote arbitrariness in sentencing. Prior to the Payne decision, there was no research that specifically addressed the effects of VIS on jurors in capital sentencing. Since that time, numerous studies have examined VIS and sentencing. Some consistency in findings have begun to emerge regarding important issues such as the emotional appeal of VIS, as well as the degree to which VIS operate as an expression of harm. The empirical research examining the effects of VIS is described, and gaps in our existing research and areas which merit future investigation are considered.


Victim Impact Statements Capital Sentencing Jury decision making Emotions Jurors 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of North Carolina WilmingtonWilmingtonUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA

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