By Jennifer Hill
Program Supervisor, Crime Victim Clearinghouse, Texas Department of Criminal Justice Victim Services Division
The Victim Impact Statement (VIS) remains the most effective way for victims’ voices to be heard throughout the criminal justice system. A long history of milestones contributed to the establishment of crime victims’ rights in Texas and ultimately to the creation and ascribed uses of the VIS. In this article, I will share the purposes of the statement; how the VIS and related documents are revised each biennium; and the role of attorneys representing the State in ensuring victims of crime are afforded the rights enumerated in Texas Constitution, Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP), and Penal Code.
Creating and revising the VIS
Before the late 1970s, crime victims in the United States did not have rights in the criminal justice system. The 1970s and 1980s saw great strides in the expansion of crime victims’ rights and services. The formation of victim service groups, such as People Against Violent Crime and the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, worked to push victim rights legislation forward. In 1982, President Ronald Reagan’s Task Force on Victims of Crime brought national focus on the needs of crime victims. The Task Force’s Final Report offers recommendations related to the passing of legislation mandating the creation of victim impact statements and their consideration before sentencing.
In 1985, the 69th Texas Legislature passed House Bill 235, which created Chapter 56 of the CCP, codified the Rights of Crime Victims statute, defined statutory victims, and created the written VIS. This new statute gave crime victims the right to complete a VIS and have it considered at various stages of the criminal justice process; it also described the development and revision of the VIS form, the required elements of the statement, and its intended purposes. It is primarily the responsibility of the Texas Crime Victim Clearinghouse (TxCVC), with the participation of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles (BPP), and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) Community Justice Assistance Division, to develop and update the VIS form after every legislative session.
Purposes of the VIS
The VIS has four primary purposes, the first being to record the impact of an offense on the victim of that offense, including psychologically, personally, physically, and financially. This is different from an allocution in that the VIS is submitted in writing and reviewed by the prosecutors and judge before sentencing, rather than delivered orally after sentencing. Also, the written VIS follows the offender throughout the criminal justice system.
The second purpose of the written VIS is as a way for key decision-makers within the criminal justice system to consider the harm caused by the crime. These key decision-makers include:
• the prosecutor, who is required to consider the VIS before a plea bargain agreement is accepted,
• the judge, who is required to consider the VIS before a plea bargain agreement is accepted or before sentencing, and
• the Board of Pardons and Paroles, which is required to review the VIS before voting to release or deny an inmate for parole or mandatory supervision, as well as whether to recommend clemency to the governor.
The third purpose is as a tool for victims to request notifications, document the victim’s notification preferences, and provide victim contact information to be used by criminal justice agencies to notify the victim throughout the process. A few of these notifications include, but are not limited to, the right to be informed:
• by the prosecutor of relevant court proceedings, including appellate proceedings, and to be informed if those proceedings have been canceled or rescheduled;
• by an appellate court of the court’s decisions;
• by the entity that has custody of the inmate, when an inmate convicted of an offense completes the sentence and is released, dies, or escapes; and
• by the TDCJ when the inmate enters the parole review process, is released to parole or mandatory supervision, or discharges the sentence.
It is important to note that if a court sentences a defendant to a period of community supervision, the prosecutor has the responsibility to forward the VIS to the community supervision and corrections department supervising the defendant. If a court sentences a defendant to imprisonment in TDCJ, the court shall attach to the commitment papers a copy of the VIS.
The final purpose of the written VIS is to provide victims with information about crime victims’ rights and how the statement is used in the criminal justice system.
Revisions to the VIS
The VIS Revision Committee makes essential updates to the VIS after each legislative session to ensure these documents are user-friendly for victims and criminal justice professionals alike. The committee safeguards the victim’s voice within the criminal justice system and provides an important perspective on how the VIS is used to meet victims’ needs in different counties. Below is a summary of key revisions made to the VIS and related documents, which were approved by the VIS Revision Committee after the 87th Legislative Session.
• The VIS’s title changed to “Your Voice, Your Right!” and a QR code directing victims to the TDCJ Victim Services Division website was added. Other clarifying changes were made to help unify the document and accommodate multiple offenses and charges.
• On the Just for Kids VIS, which is for use when the witness or victim is under 18, “Pseudonym” was added next to “My Name” to provide the option for a pseudonym to protect the victim’s privacy and confidentiality.
• On the Supplemental Page, clarifying changes were made to unify the document with the VIS form.
• Under Recommended Processing Procedures, changes were made to simplify the procedures and make them more user-friendly for victim services and criminal justice professionals.
• On the “It’s Your Voice” brochure, a section about clemency was added to make sure victim service and criminal justice professionals understand that the VIS allows the victim’s voice to be heard during the clemency process as well.
• eVIS is an electronic version of the VIS that will enable victims to complete and submit the VIS online at their convivence. It is an ongoing project that we hope to have up and working soon.
Find all of the new documents online at TDCJ’s website, www.tdcj.texas.gov/publications/victim_impact_statement.html.
For more information
You can access more information about the recent changes to the VIS by viewing our previously recorded webinar, Victim Impact Statement: 2021 Updates. To locate other webinars, search our archives at https://ivss.tdcj.texas.gov/search-training-event. The TxCVC is also available to provide Victim Impact Statement trainings for your organization. To request training in your area, please submit the request via our online portal at https://ivss.tdcj.texas.gov/training-request. For more information about Victim Impact Statements, please contact the TxCVC at tdcj.clear[email protected] or call 512/ 406-5931 to speak to a TxCVC staff member.
Editor’s note: The Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) also revised its Juvenile Victim Impact Statement, and it is available online at www.tjjd.texas.gov/index.php/doc-library/category/351-juvenile-victim-impact-statement. There are adults’ and kids’ versions available in both English and Spanish.
 Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (IDVSA). (2011). Milestones in Texas Victim Rights and Services, IDVSA at University of Texas, Austin, TX, Crime Victims’ Rights Week 2011.
 Office for Victims of Crime (2005), Crime Victims’ Rights in America: A Historical Overview, National Victim Victims’ Rights Week 2005. Retrieved from www.ncjrs.gov/ovc_archives/ncvrw/2005/pg4b.html.
 President Ronald Regan (1982), Presidential Executive Order 12360, President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime, pp.18 & 36. Retrieved from https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/ovc/87299.pdf.
 Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Art. 56A.151.
 Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Art. 56A.157(a).
 Tex. Gov’t Code §508.153(c).
 Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Art. 56A.159.
 Tex. Code Crim. Proc. Art. 56A.159(b)).
 View it at https://tdcj.adobeconnect.com /pdk9ugjonfg7.