Source: (2012) Indiana Law Journal. 87(3):1247-1286.

This article will proceed in four parts. Part I will summarize the legal history of victim impact statements and the existing debate over their appropriateness in the sentencing context. I will argue that much of the literature focuses on a tripartite competition between victim, defendant, and state, which has the tendency to ignore the capacity for a victim impact statement to externalize and convey the social harm of a criminal act. In Part II, through textual analysis of how a group of actual victim impact statements convey individual suffering to an institutional audience, I will demonstrate the unique complexity of the harm they narrate. I will show that while critics’ concerns over the capacity of subjective narratives to yield undifferentiated antipathy and lapses into trope language of “victimhood” are in fact justified by reality, other features allow these narratives to get at the nuanced truth of suffered harm and its context in the social world protected by the criminal justice system. The model that emerges from this analysis reveals a deep tension between narrative authorities in the structure of victim impact testimony. On the one hand, the victim has the potential to overcome the monopoly on narrative previously held by the trial attorneys, as well as some of the signification problems identified in the theoretical literature, to develop uniquely subjective accounts of harm through some of the techniques I identify. On the other, the victims’ sheer consciousness of their own bodies and identities as potentially transformed by the defendant, and the continuing consciousness of the court’s authority to assign meaning to these transformations, has the tendency to subvert the victims’ authority as subjective authors of their own experiences. (author's abstract)

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