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Payne, Victim impact evidence, VIE, Capital punishment, Death penalty, Payne v. Tennesse, Booth v. Maryland, South Carolina v. Gathers


Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | Jurisprudence


A little over a decade ago, in Payne v. Tennessee, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for capital sentencing juries to consider “victim impact evidence” (VIE). Reversing its prior decisions in Booth v. Maryland and South Carolina v. Gathers, a six to three majority of the Court held that “if the State chooses to permit the admission of victim impact evidence and prosecutorial argument on that subject, the Eighth Amendment erects no per se bar.” Part I of this Article will discuss the Court’s prior decisions in Booth and Gathers, and Parts II and III will briefly attempt to clarify the parameters of the Payne holding. Part IV of this Article will survey the current legal landscape of state and federal practice regarding the admissibility of VIE and argument. Finally, this Article will offer in conclusion some brief perspectives on several unresolved issues in this particularly thorny (and misguided) area of capital punishment jurisprudence.

Publication Citation

Published in: Cornell Law Review, vol. 88, no. 2 (January 2003).