Remote Victim Impact Statements

From the March 2024 Criminal Defense Newsletter

Effective February 13, 2024, victims in criminal cases – that includes misdemeanor, felony, and juvenile matters – may appear via video conferencing technology at sentencing. Remote victim impact statements are now permitted. 2023 PA 178, amending MCL 780.765, MCL 780.793, MCL 780.825.

This statutory change looks to be a boon to victims and an advantage to prosecutors. For the victim, gone are the days of traveling to court, finding parking (when necessary), and taking time off from work. For the prosecutor, more victim impact statements mean more first-hand accounts of loss, destruction, and physical and psychological injury. In other words, there will be more victim participation at sentencing. Anecdotal evidence suggests this has already begun.

While the changes do not seem favorable to the defense, there may be a silver lining for the defendant in some settings. There are drawbacks to remote statements, and it is well understood that video appearance is not a substitute for personal appearance. A victim’s tears may be less noticeable on Zoom, especially when the person’s face is not front and center on the screen. Moreover, emotion conveyed through body language may be lost. Further, the inherent drama of a victim speaking from a wheelchair or on crutches will disappear. Something is lost when the remote world meets the real world.

As one defense attorney commented, he would much rather have the victim appear remotely than in person in some settings. Strangely enough, this new statutory authorization may offer something to prosecution, defense, and victims as well.

Anne Yantus
Michigan Sentencing
Copyright Anne Yantus 2023

Anne Yantus is a sentence consultant working with attorneys to promote more favorable sentencing out-comes. Anne credits her knowledge of Michigan sentencing law to the many years she spent handling plea and sentencing appeals with the State Appellate Defender Office. Following her time with SADO, Anne taught a criminal sentencing course at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and subsequently continued to write and speak on felony sentencing law while serving as pro bono counsel with Bodman PLC. Anne welcomes your Michigan felony sentencing questions and is happy to arrange a consultation where appropriate. Due to the volume of inquiries, the author is not able to respond to pro bono requests for assistance or analysis of individual fact situations.