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Criminal Justice & Legal System

Bill would require criminal defendants to hear victim statements

Judge's gavel

Convicted criminals could be required to listen to victim impact statements at sentencing. That’s if a bill continues to make its way through the state Legislature. It was voted out of a House committee today, and is waiting for a full House vote.

State Rep. Holly Hughes, R-Montague, is a bill sponsor. She says the bill stems from the murder of a woman in Muskegon County. At his sentencing, the defendant was allowed to leave the courtroom during statements made by the victim’s family.

"He gets to live," Hughes said. "They’ll never see their family member, their sister, their daughter ever, ever again, and at least he can do is listen to what they have to say and how it’s changed their lives forever.”

Critics of the bill say it takes away a judge’s discretion. Although there are exceptions in the law, they say there could be other reasons a judge would not want a defendant in court for victim impact statements.

“There’s the possibility that there might be other reasons why the judge might want to allow that defendant to waive that right," said state Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, who abstained. "So it’s something that I’m still thinking about.”