Do victims have a say?
Court to hear case on punishment requests
After a conviction, victims are allowed to tell the world about the impact the crime had on them and their loved ones — and as part of those often-tearful soliloquies, they can suggest a punishment to the judge who will eventually lay down a sentence.
But those suggestions are under fire, and next Thursday the Supreme Judicial Court will hear a case that asks whether or not requesting a punishment violates a convict’s constitutional rights.
“There are experts on sentencing — the judge, prosecutor and defense attorney — but the victim is not in that position,” said Max Bauer, the attorney challenging the practice. “They understand what effect the crime had on them, but they don’t know what an appropriate sentence is.”
Bauer is representing Shawn McGonagle, who in 2016 was found guilty of simple assault and battery after a two-day trial at West Roxbury District Court. At sentencing, Judge Paul J. McManus asked to hear from Angel Otero, the victim of the crime, according to court documents.
Otero said: “I would like it for him to get the maximum.”
Although McManus didn’t hand down the maximum sentence, Bauer argues that the very fact that the judge asked — and that state law allows a victim to give their opinion — is unconstitutional.
He cites a Supreme Court decision stating that, in death penalty cases, allowing a victim’s family members to suggest an appropriate sentence violates the Eighth Amendment.
“The Supreme Court has never held that prohibition is inapplicable to non-capital cases,” Bauer wrote in his pitch to the SJC. “The danger of improperly influencing a sentence is just as real in other criminal contexts; the same reasoning should apply.”
But Suffolk prosecutors argue victims have had the right to be heard at sentencing for years and that Bauer’s challenge “has no merit.”
“Under these circumstances, it appears the defendant’s goal is not to correct an unjust sentence but to further silence victims by eliminating the one opportunity they have to address the court,” Suffolk District Attorney spokesman Jake Wark said in an email.
Kim Bozzi, the aunt of teen suicide victim Conrad Roy III, asked for a 20-year prison sentence for Michelle Carter on the heels of her conviction in the blockbuster suicide-by-text case. She said the rule is fine as is.
“Victims should be able to say whatever they want,” she said.
“They should be able to yell and scream and cry and suggest a sentence. It’s their moment.”
VICTIM INPUT: Kim Bozzi, above, the aunt of teen suicide victim Conrad Roy III, speaks after Judge Lawrence Moniz found Michelle Carter, top right, guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Roy’s death. Bozzi thinks the rule being challenged in court next week, which allows victims to specify desired punishment, is fine as it is.