A new piece of legislation in Michigan has been signed into law here in Michigan, which addresses the issue of victim impact statements. Up until now, while victims of crimes were allowed to make victim impact statements to the court, the convicted defendant has not been required to listen to their statement. (Unless being required to listen to the victim impact statements was part of the plea deal!)
Were defendants allowed to refuse to listen to victim impact statements?
Certainly. A recent example of this was Jeffrey Willis, who refused to sit through the victim impact statements given by his victim’s family members at his sentencing in Muskegon County. Willis was convicted of murdering Rebekah Bletsch. When it was time for Jessica Josephson, Rebekah’s sister to address the court with her victim impact statement, Willis, being a worthless piece of (expletive deleted), walked out of his sentencing hearing, blowing a kiss to the packed courtroom as he left.
The criminal defense attorneys in our Oakland County office wonder how many kisses Inmate Willis will be blowing to his fellow prisoners inside the Michigan Department of Corrections, which is where he will remain in a cage until he dies. Only after his death will Willis suffer his most severe consequences.
His obnoxious conduct was an insult that Ms. Josephson took very personally, and it was the primary reason she chose to testify before the Michigan House Law and Justice Committee in favor of this new legislation. According to the grieving Ms. Josephson, Willis refusing to hear her out stripped her of an important part of her grieving process, and she believed that he should have stayed and listened, if nothing else as a sign of respect and remorse.
Have defendants ever been required to listen to victim impact statements?
Michigan law hasn’t ever required defendants to sit through victim impact statements in court. However, there are specific situations when it has been required, as part of a plea deal, for a defendant to listen to their victims address them in court. A good example of this was the Larry Nassar case in Lansing (Ingham County.)
Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who presided over Nassar’s trial in Lansing, allowed every one of his victims who wanted to, a chance to address the court at his sentencing. A total of 216 women and girls in Ingham County and in Eaton County came forward and spoke at the Nassar sentencing hearings. The hearings continued for many days in order to allow all the victims a chance to speak. And Nassar was required, as part of his plea agreement, to listen to every single one.
How will this change things for future Michigan defendants?
Listening to the impact statements of a convict’s victims is very difficult for most defendants. Being forced to witness the pain one has caused is incredibly difficult. In fact, at one point during the process, Nassar wrote a letter to the judge saying that he couldn’t stand the emotional experience of having to hear his victims’ impact statements. He also claimed feared for his emotional and mental health. In that case, Judge Aquilina quickly rejected Nassar’s request to sit out the remainder of the victim impact statements, and Nassar was forced to listen to all 216 of his survivors.
The Nassar case was singular. It’s rare that so many people’s lives are affected by the actions of one person, so it’s unlikely that the average defendant in Michigan would have to sit through hundreds of victim impact statements. However, Nassar’s difficulty in facing his victims is no different from anyone else’s. And in Michigan, that challenge has now become mandatory.
Michigan sentencing hearings may be different in the future.
Not every victim, or victim’s family member, wants to stand up and say something in court. Not everyone who suffered as a result of someone else’s choices feels compelled to speak out about their experiences. So not every defendant will have to listen to a victim impact statement. But the choice is no longer theirs. It now falls to their victims to decide.
At The Kronzek Firm, our experienced criminal defense attorneys know that there is a lot to handle when you are facing criminal conviction in Michigan. And the best way to ensure you don’t have to deal with anything unnecessary, specifically if you’ve been falsely accused of a crime, is to hire an exceptional defense attorney right from the start. Call us at 866 766 5245 and get the help you need. We’re here to help by calling 1 866 7NoJail.