LIONEL TATE CASE:
APPELLATE COURT CORRECT TO ORDER NEW TRIAL
JLC Amicus Brief Highlighted Concerns About Competency Of Young Defendants
December 10, 2003
PHILADELPHIA, PA -Citing concern for the competency of such a young defendant to understand the legal process, an appellate court in Florida today ordered a new trial for Lionel Tate, currently serving a life sentence for a murder committed when he was 12. Robert Schwartz, Esq., Executive Director at Juvenile Law Center, reacted to the court's order.
"The court was absolutely correct to order a new trial for Lionel Tate. Only a new trial can remedy the serious concerns about Lionel's ability to effectively assist in his own defense as mandated by federal and state constitutions.
On March 4, 2002, Juvenile Law Center filed an amicus brief on behalf of a dozen organizations and individuals warning the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Florida to properly consider Lionel's age and developmental stage. Recent research supports our argument that there is every reason to believe that Lionel was not competent to direct his defense.
Tiffany Eunick's death remains a terrible tragedy, but the court has averted compounding it by taking into account important circumstances impacting the process that sentenced a 12 year old boy to life in prison."
Lionel Tate Case in the News
Rock Hill Herald, 1/28/2004
A day after teenage killer Lionel Tate was released from his life without parole sentence in a Florida prison, the debate over juveniles in the adult criminal system carries on.
Many are incensed by the Florida law requiring such a stiff sentence. Tate's conviction, however, was overturned because he was never given a competency test, said Robert Schwartz, director of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, not because of his age.
Lionel Tate will soon be free.
He's the Florida boy who at age 14 was tried as an adult and became the youngest child ever to be convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Tate, now nearly 17, was just 12 when he killed his 6-year-old playmate, Tiffany Eunick. She was staying with the Tate family and was under the care of Lionel's mother. Lionel Tate said he was trying out professional wrestling moves on Tiffany when he beat her to death. The Philadelphia Inquirer, Acel Moore, January 8, 2004.
MIAMI, Dec. 10 — A Florida appeals court panel ordered a new trial on Wednesday for Lionel Tate, whose life prison sentence for murdering a playmate when he was 12 became an international rallying point against treating juvenile offenders as harshly as adults.
A three-judge panel of the Fourth District Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and life sentence of Lionel, now 16, on grounds that his mental competency should have been evaluated before his trial in 2001. The boy's lawyers had sought such an evaluation, though only after the conviction for first-degree murder, which in Florida requires a life sentence with no parole regardless of the defendant's age.
"This is as good as it gets, to get a do-over," one of Lionel's appeals lawyers, Cheryl Zickler, said on Wednesday. "We have more facts than we did the first time around. So this time, everyone will be much more informed." The New York Times, Abby Goodnough, December 11, 2003.
JLC and Florida Center on Children and the Law File Amicus Briefs in Tate Case.
On March 4, 2002, Juvenile Law Center filed a brief on behalf of a dozen organizations and individuals, (PDF) arguing in the Fourth District Court of Appeals in Florida that the conviction of 12-year-old Lionel Tate for the "wrestling" murder of his six-year-old friend had numerous errors, including failure to acknowledge the infancy defense or issues related to Lionel's competence to stand trial. Sending Tate to criminal court violated principles of due process and equal protection, and his sentence of life without parole constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
JLC also signed on as an amicus to a brief filed by the Florida Center on Children and the Law, (PDF) which argued that in convicting Lionel, Florida courts mis-applied the felony-murder doctrine and the staes criminal child abuse laws.
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