A teenage boy returns from a night out with his friends to find his home in disarray; furniture is strewn about and valuable belongings are missing. He ventures towards his parents' bedroom, unaware of the horrific scene that he soon will witness. As he enters his parents' bedroom a sudden sense of reality washes over him as he views the scene in the room: his parents are dead on their bed, in inhuman, violently conorted positions, with blood covering the sheets, their bodies, the floor, and the walls. The boy, in shock, reaches for the phone and calls the police.
The authorities arrest the suspected murderer of the boy's parents, put him in jail, appoint counsel, and apprise him of his legal rights. In contrast, the boy is left to deal with his pain and anguish by seeking the help of friends, extended family, and well-wishers. The boy's life is permanently altered. He is now an orphan, and the state will place him in foster care. He will have to cope with the emotional trauma that accompanies the discovery of his parents' bodies and with the void that the loss of both parents created.
The boy has no voice in pursuing the defendant's prosecution or in agreeing to a plea bargain arrangement. When the case goes to trial, the boy is left alone in the corridor so that his testimony will not be com- promised by what he may have heard from other witnesses. The defendant, however, is entitled to be present at all stages of the criminal process. When the boy takes the stand, his testimony is brief; he tells the jury what he saw in his parents' bedroom upon returning home that evening, but he does not have the opportunity to tell the jury anything else. The jury finds the defendant guilty, yet the boy is unsatisfied be- cause the criminal justice system has not taken care of him, nor satisfied his emotional needs.
Today's criminal justice system focuses on the defendant and on the criminal act against society. By doing so, authorities within the criminal justice system often ignore the victim of the crime. Not surprisingly, victims of criminal acts have expressed dissatisfaction with the criminal justice system, which they perceive as inequitably focusing on the defendant. In response to the problem, victims' advocates have lobbied state and national policymakers to initiate changes within the system that would draw greater attention to the victim of the crime. A criminal justice system that acknowledges and treats the victim's needs is not objectionable in itself; however, when it affords the victim opportunities, which advocates refer to as "rights," that directly violate the defendant's constitutional rights, the system is objectionable.
Michael I. Oberlander,
The Payne of Allowing Victim Impact Statements at Capital Sentencing Hearings,
45 Vanderbilt Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/vlr/vol45/iss6/5