9/22/2009 - U.S. SUPREME COURT APPEAL - VICTIMS' RIGHTS IN VIOLENT JUVENILE CASES
VICTIMS’ RIGHTS IN JUVENILE CRIMES:
LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE JUSTIFIED IN HORRENDOUS CASES
On behalf of 34 victims' rights organizations across the nation, Southeastern Legal Foundation has filed a friend of the court brief to the Supreme Court of the United States urging the high court to “remain faithful to the Constitution of the United States and its own jurisprudence . . . [and deny the request] that life without parole for violent juveniles offends the Eighth Amendment.” Graham v. State of Florida, Sullivan v. State of Florida. (COMPLETE LIST OF VICTIM ORGANIZATIONS LISTED BELOW).
The important cases bring to light key constitutional questions dealing with the rarely used yet vital penalty of life without parole for serious violent juvenile offenders. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the death penalty in juvenile cases violates the Eighth Amendment, but affirmed that life without parole did not. Despite a majority of states enacting victims’ rights statutes since President Reagan’s Task Force on Victims of Crime in the 1980s, most of the same states have not extended victim protections to the juvenile justice system. According to definitive studies, a majority of victims are ‘re-victimized’ when convicted violent offenders in the juvenile justice system are treated far less severely than their ‘adult’ counterparts.
“As a former prosecutor and chief of a prosecution division dealing with crimes against women and children, I’ve seen grave injustice in too many cases in which victims are treated with less than adequate protections when their violent victimizers are handled with kid gloves by the juvenile system,” said Shannon L. Goessling, SLF executive director and chief legal counsel and author of the U.S. Supreme Court brief. “We are calling on the high court to reaffirm its longstanding view that life without parole is an appropriate and constitutional punishment – a penalty rarely given but vital to the maintenance of fair criminal justice.”
“As it states clearly in most state Constitutions, protection of people – including and especially victims of crime – is the paramount duty of government. In this, there is no higher calling in our justice system,” Goessling added.
The SLF brief cites extensive statistical and analytical studies demonstrating the clear distinction between the treatment of victims in adult criminal prosecutions versus the treatment of victims in juvenile cases. Pointing to an alarming upswing in violent crime committed by juveniles, the SLF brief raises the concern that eliminating life without parole for convicted violent juvenile offenders will work against deterrence and expose victims to the potential that their attackers will be back on the streets in a short time.
The outcome of the appeal could have significant impact on the ways in which violent juvenile offenders are punished and on the policies enacted to protect victims of violent juvenile crime.
COMPREHENSIVE LIST OF AMICI ORGANIZATIONS:
National Organization of Victims of Juvenile Lifers
Victims for Justice
Victims of Crime Amendment
National Organization of Victim Assistance
National Coalition of Victims In Action
Families and Friends of Violent Crime Victims
National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children
Central Minnesota Chapter of POMC
Greater Cincinnati Area Chapter of POMC
Houston, Texas Chapter of POMC
Northwestern Pennsylvania Chapter of POMC
Southwest Louisiana Chapter of POMC
Utah Chapter of POMC
Association of Prosecuting Attorneys
The Ben Doran Foundation
Survivors In Action
Citizens Against Homicide
Justice For All
Crime Victims Action Alliance
Arizona Voice for Crime Victims
Worldwide Sensible Sentencing Organization
Crime Victims United of California
Crime Victims United of Oregon
Crime Victims United of Texas
Victims Voices Heard
You Have the Power…Know How to Use It
The Renee Olubunmi Rondeau Peace Foundation
The HOPE Network
Justice for Homicide Victims