Do Victim Impact Statements From Officers Carry More Weight?

Phoenix Police Officer Jennifer Moore read her victim statement during sentencing. One article stated, "the highlight in court was Moore's dramatic description of how his shooting her had impacted her life."

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Is a victim impact statement any more effective when the victim is an officer? Let's consider the case of Phoenix Police Officer Jennifer Moore, who was shot in the line of duty in 2008.

Before analyzing Moore's case, first a historical perspective.

In Colonial America, prosecution of criminals was a private matter, which was a primary concern of the colonial fathers, because they had seen so much criminal injustice in the British system. They wanted the accused to be afforded a fair and unbiased trial.

Americans can be justifiably proud of the rights established for criminal defendants. Along the way, the victims of crime became more and more excluded from the justice system unless they were needed as witnesses, complainants, or to present evidence in criminal trials.

The first victim impact statement was introduced in Fresno County, Calif., in 1976 by then Chief Probation Officer James Rowland. Since that time, the use of victim impact statements has gained tremendous momentum.

However, there are critics. Some legal scholars question whether victim participation in sentencing blurs the lines between civil and criminal courts. In 1982, the President's Task Force on Victims of Crime responded to such objections.

OK, back to Moore's story.

This particular victim was on patrol with another officer on a Saturday evening, June 28. During a traffic stop, two male occupants were told to get out of the car. Passenger Aaron Lopez, 35, pulled out a handgun and shot Moore. Lopez fled on foot and forced his way into a home, holding a man hostage before surrendering early Sunday morning. Lopez was taken into custody and charged with aggravated assault of a police officer and kidnapping.

During a sentencing hearing for Lopez, Moore read a victim statement aloud in court. One article stated, "the highlight in court was Moore's dramatic description of how his shooting her had impacted her life."

Reading from her statement, Moore told Lopez, "You are nothing but a weak human being. A poor excuse of a man. You have no one else to blame your actions on but yourself. No amount of time you serve in prison will justify what you truly deserve. I am still doing what God has called me to do. I am still patrolling the same area, the same beat, and the same street. As I continue to move forward, may God have mercy on your soul."

Moore said these things to Lopez, looking him straight in the eye. In the end, a judge ordered Lopez confined to prison for 115 years. Effectively that's a life sentence for Officer Moore's assailant.

The information from a victim impact statement whether from a law enforcement officer or private citizen give us the sense that the justice system is working in greater balance. It is a rare occurrence that an officer gives both, testimony at trial and a victim's statement during sentencing.

Is it possible that officers also need to voice their experience as a victim before the court as part of their healing process? I don't believe all officers would choose to make a victim statement, but they should be allowed and encouraged to participate, as any private citizen would be.

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