When a federal judge in Baltimore sat down this week to sentence a bank robber he had before him a report not only on the convicted man, but one discussing the victim of the crime as well.
This "victim impact statement," prepared by federal probation officers focusing on the financial, physical and psychological effects of crime on victims, is part of a new program in Maryland, the first of its kind in any federal court.
"Everybody these days is always concentrating on he poor defendant," said Chief Judge Edward S. Northrop, of the U.S. District Court in Maryland. "They forget what destruction he has wrought on the poor victim."
On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph young reviewed the first "victim impact statement" before sentencing Ronald Joseph Hackett to 40 years for bank robbery and taking a hostage in the course of a bank robbery.
The victim, Maryland National Bank employe Andrea Bowling, was abducted from her Harford County mobile home as her husband and two young sons were held at gunpoint. She was released more than 12 hours later after her employers agreed to pay her abductor $250,000.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Herbert Better said that prosecutors often mention the victim's plight in their comments, but that a report from "neutral source - the probation officer will serve to bring home more graphically what happened to the victim."
However, Hackett's attorney, Andrew Radding, said he was concerned there was a "danger of exaggeration" in the "victim impact" statements. He said the program needs some controls and suggested that the victim statements be taken under oath or investigated to determine if they are factual.
Judge Northrop said it is conceivable "the courts could say we can't do it. They might say it's too inflammatory, but it seems to me we ought to know something about the victim. It balances all we know about the defendant."
The usual presentence report the judge has received is a confidential document giving an extensive history of the defendant and a sentence recommendation.
Had the new program been in effect in Maryland last year, it would have applied to at most about 20 percent of the 1,100 sentencings in federal courts, according to Paul Falkoner, deputy chief federal probation officer in the state.
A majority of federal crimes, such as tax violations, are victimless, he said. However, in crimes such as extortion, fraud, kidnaping or others where there is a "real, human victim," probation officers will be required to attempt to get a victim statement, Falkoner said.
"What happens too often is the victim is interviewed by police or the FBI and is never heard from again," said J. Edward Muhlbach, chief federal probation officer in Maryland. "It's good to pay some attention to the aftereffects (of crime) on them."
William A. Hamilton, of the Institute for Law and Social Research, sees the program as a natural extension of "shift in the past several years . . . to concern for the victim." Other outgrowths of this trend have been programs to compensate victims and to help them deal with the court system.
Hamilton said the new policy could be especially useful in plea-bargaining. The vast majority of criminal cases are resolved by plea bargaining, and "the judge sees nothing of the victim's trauma in the plea agreement," Hamilton said.
Similar impact statements are required by the state courts in Indiana and some other states encourage probation officers to interview victims, according to Scotia Knouff, of the American Parole and Probation Association.
The Maryland Division of Parole and Probation plans to start including victim impact statements in its reports to state judges in the near future, according to a spokesman for the director. Probation officers do so now, on a limited basis, if a judge requests one.
Falkoner said that as part of the program - which requires no new federal funds - probation officers may also:
Mediate employment problems arising when victims lost time at work because of injuries suffered as a result of a crime.
Intervene with the victim's creditors, if the crime causes financial problems.
Help the victims apply for compensation programs.
Notify victims of the outcome of criminal prosecutions.