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VIctims' Statements: What Purpose?

Reported by Judy - March 16, 2005

I must be mentally ill. John Gibson said something on The Big Story Wednesday (March 16) that I thought was worthwhile.

Gibson interviewed a former prosecutor, B.J. Bernstein, and Fox News senior legal analyst Andrew Napolitano about the victim impact statements in the Scott Peterson murder trial. "To what purpose," he asked about the statements.

The mother and other family members of Laci Peterson attacked Peterson as the embodiment of evil during the victim impact statements they made before the judge. As Gibson pointed out, the judge in the case already had said that he intended to uphold the jury's recommendation of death for Peterson for the murder of his wife and her fetus.

Gibson described the presentations as full of anger, bitterness, vengefulness. Gibson asked both his guests what the purpose and value of these statements were, since the judge had already made up his mind and had so little leeway in the sentencing in this case. Bernstein said the victim impact statements were part of the victims rights movements and were relatively new. Although not legally useful in this case, in other cases they can allow the judge to hear how the victims were affected and give the victims a chance to vent their feelings, she said.

Napolitano said judges "hate that statute" because they can do nothing but sit and listen.

The segment, of course, was only one part of Fox's coverage of the Peterson trial. There were segments on what Peterson can expect in prison, video of former jurors talking about the case, and so on. But at least this segment had some educational value in pointing out that the statements are useless from a legal standpoint in this case. But they make good headlines and TV stories.

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