Victim Impact Statement. Ball v. State


Brief Brief.  Ball v. State, 347 Md. 156 (1997)

Issue:  Victim impact statements and their limits.


 “The impact of a crime on a victim or the victim’s family is both relevant and probative. (citing Evans v. State, 333 Md. 660 at 687). The relevance and probative value of the impact of the offense on individuals beyond the victim’s family, however, is less certain. Victim impact testimony generally should be limited, therefore, to the impact of the crime on the victim or the victim’s family members.”(Id. at 198)

“The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment and Article 21 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights confer upon a defendant in a criminal proceeding the right to confront the witnesses against him. (citing Ebb v. State, 341 Md. 578 at 587.)  Ordinarily, the right of confrontation includes the right to cross-examine witnesses concerning matters that might expose any bias, interest, or motive to falsify. [citation omitted]. This right ‘extends to the sentencing phase of a capital trial and applies to [live,] victim impact witnesses as well as factual witnesses.’” (Id. at 199, quoting: Grandison v. State, 341 Md. 175 at 206.)

“In Payne [v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808, 825 (1991)]…, the Supreme Court described the role of victim impact evidence as follows:

‘We are now of the view that a State may properly conclude that for the jury to assess meaningfully the defendant’s moral culpability and blameworthiness, it should have before it at the sentencing phase evidence of the specific harm caused by the defendant. ‘[T]he State has a legitimate interest in counteracting the mitigating evidence which the defendant is entitled to put in, by reminding the sentencer that just as the murderer should be considered as an individual, so too the victim is an individual whose death represents a unique loss to society and in particular to his family.’ [internal citation omitted].’”

“This passage from Payne suggests that victim impact evidence may be used both to assess the harm caused by the defendant’s actions . . . and to counteract mitigating evidence…” (Id. at 205-206).


Practitioner Note:  Relevant statutes include Maryland Criminal Procedure Sections 11-401 and 11-403.   “In the sentencing or disposition hearing the court, if practicable, shall allow the victim or the victim’s representative to address the court under oath before the imposition of sentence… [and the defendant] may cross-examine the victim or victim’s representative.”  (Criminal Procedure Section 11-403 (b) and (c)(1)).  “’Victim’s representative’ means a member of the victim’s immediate family; or another family member, the personal representative, or guardian of the victim if the victim is: deceased; under a mental, physical, or legal disability; or otherwise unable to provide the required information.”  (Criminal Procedure Section 11-401).

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