United States District Court, D. Alaska
ORDER RE: MOTION TO STRIKE VICTIM IMPACT
L. GLEASON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court at Docket 362 is Defendant John Pearl Smith,
II's Motion to Strike Victim Impact Evidence under the
Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Government filed an
opposition. Mr. Smith did not file a reply.
Government has indicated that it will seek to introduce
victim impact evidence if a penalty phase is needed in Mr.
Smith's trial. Specifically, the Government seeks to
introduce evidence that Mr. Smith “caused injury, harm,
and loss to Ben Gross's and Crystal Denardi's family
and friends as evidence by the impact of their death on her
[sic] family and friends.”
Supreme Court, in Payne v. Tennessee, held that the
Eight Amendment does not generally prohibit the use of victim
impact evidence in capital sentencing. Prior to
Payne, victim impact evidence was prohibited unless
it related directly the circumstances of the
crime and prosecutors could not argue victim
impact to the jury.
Payne Court considered a Tennessee double-homicide
capital case where a victim-impact witness testified about
the effect of the loss of his mother and sister on a young
boy, who survived the same attack. The prosecution referenced
this testimony in its closing arguments. The Court
reasoned that prohibiting victim impact evidence
“unfairly weighted the scales in a capital trial; while
virtually no limits are placed on the relevant mitigating
evidence a capital defendant may introduce concerning his own
circumstances . . . .” The Court found that
“[v]ictim impact evidence is simply another form or
method of informing the sentencing authority about the
specific harm caused by the crime in question, evidence of a
general type long considered by sentencing authorities . . .
. In the majority of cases, and in this case, victim impact
evidence serves entirely legitimate
purposes.” As stated by the Supreme Court in a
later case, “[t]he Eighth Amendment . . . permits
capital sentencing juries to consider evidence relating to
the victim's personal characteristics and the emotional
impact of the murder on the victim's family in deciding
whether an eligible defendant should receive a death
Payne, in 1994 Congress authorized the use of victim
impact evidence as part of the Federal Death Penalty
Act's penalty-phase scheme:
The factors for which notice is provided under this
subsection may include factors concerning the effect of the
offense on the victim and the victim's family, and may
include oral testimony, a victim impact statement that
identifies the victim of the offense and the extent and scope
of the injury and loss suffered by the victim and the
victim's family, and any other relevant
Smith recognizes that Payne is controlling precedent
but maintains that it was wrongly decided and should be
overturned. The Government agrees that
Payne is controlling and emphasizes that both
Payne and the FDPA allow introduction of victim
impact evidence. This Court is bound by the Supreme
Court's reasoning and holding in Payne and its
progeny, which allow victim impact evidence.
the Government may introduce victim impact evidence in a
variety of ways,  it is not without limitations.
“Victim impact evidence gives a ‘quick
glimpse' of the victim's life and of his
‘uniqueness as an individual human
being.'” Victim impact evidence may not include
“characterizations and opinions from a victim's
family members about the crime, the defendant, and the
appropriate sentence.” The Court also acts as a
gatekeeper to ensure that victim impact evidence does not
violate due process by being “so unduly prejudicial
that it renders the trial fundamentally
unfair” and to ensure that its probative value
is not outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice, confusion
of the issues, or misleading the jury.
light of the foregoing, IT IS ORDERED that the motion at
Docket 362 is DENIED. However, Mr. Smith may file motions
in limine relating to specific victim impact
evidence that he maintains should be limited or excluded.
 Docket 378.
 Docket 168 at 5 (Notice of Intent to
Seek a Sentence of ...