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April 14, 2006

Fascinating victims rights case from Alaska

Today the Alaska Court of Appeals issued a fascinating 56-page opinion holding that crime victims do not have independent standing to appeal a defendant's sentence.  The opinion in Cooper v. District Court, No. A-8835 (Alaska Ct. App. Apr. 14, 2006) (available here), includes a very thorough collection and discussion of cases from around the nation on this issue.   

I am not surprised by the thoughtfulness of the opinion once I saw it was authored by by Judge Mannheimer, who has done fantastic work on state Blakely issues (as detailed here and here).  Here is the court's own summary of its work:

As we explain in more detail later in this opinion, courts from other states are unanimous in holding that a crime victim does not have the right to participate as an independent party in a criminal case.  Many of these courts acknowledge that a crime victim does have standing to seek appellate relief if the trial court or an executive branch agency violates one or more of the procedural rights given to victims in a victims' rights act — generally, the right to advance notice of court proceedings, the right to be present during court proceedings, and the right to be heard before the court makes certain types of decisions.  But these same courts agree that a crime victim is not an independent litigant in a criminal case, and that a crime victim does not have the right to challenge the propriety or legality of the substantive decisions made by the trial court — decisions such as what sentence should be imposed on the perpetrator of the crime.

For the reasons explained here, we agree with these courts that crime victims do not have an independent right to appeal the sentence imposed on the perpetrator of the crime. We also reject the contention of the Office of Victims' Rights that they have an independent right to challenge the decisions of the trial court in any case where the Office has appeared on behalf of a crime victim.

April 14, 2006 at 04:46 PM | Permalink

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