Victim Impact

The Court has held that the Eighth Amendment does not preclude a state from allowing victim impact evidence and statements. Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808 (1991).1 According to the Court, "victim impact evidence serves entirely legitimate purposes," for it enables the jury to have before it all information necessary to a determination of punishment. Id. at 825. Payne, however, recognized the right of the defendant to rebut victim impact evidence. Id. at 823.

The state, however, does not have free rein to introduce anything or everything about the victim. For example, Payne suggests that the state can only present "a glimpse of the life" of the victim. Id. at 822 (citation omitted); see also id. at 830 (O'Connor, J. concurring). In addition, the Court indicated that victim impact evidence "is not offered to encourage comparative judgments." Id. at 823. In addition, Payne left undisturbed Booth's prohibition against the victim's family offering its opinion about the crime, the defendant, and the appropriate punishment. Id. at 830 n.2. Furthermore, the Court recognized the victim impact statements or evidence may potentially render the sentencing proceeding fundamentally unfair. Id. at 825; id. at 831 (O'Connor, J., concurring); id. at 836-37 (Souter, J., concurring).

1Payne overruled Booth v. Maryland, 482 U.S. 496 (1987), and South Carolina v. Gathers, 490 U.S. 805 (1989).