Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2017


This article presents findings from ethnographic research in death penalty trials around the United States, focusing on the role of victims and their supporters. Victim impact testimony (VIT) in death penalty sentencing has received intense legal scrutiny during the past thirty years. The ruling jurisprudence allows VIT with the explanation that it deserves parity with testimony about the defendant's background. Drawing on observations and interviews with participants in 15 death penalty trials, I demonstrate that this framing confuses the central role of victim supporters in the courtroom. Victim supporters function as mourners, which grants them a socially elevated position in the courtroom. I argue that the consequences of the institutionalization of VIT can only be understood through this lens.

Document Object Identifier (DOI)



Cambridge University Press

Publication Information

Law & Social Inquiry