Do victims get to decide about criminal plea bargains?

Per the below cited news story it appears the victim has to power to accept or reject a proposed plea bargain by the murderer. I though this was strictly a States Attorney/Prosecuters Office decision. Is this unique to Florida state law?

Two parts of longer article

"Judge upholds boy’s life sentence
Defense to appeal, ask Gov. Bush for clemency

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., March 9 — A youth who killed a 6-year-old while imitating professional wrestlers was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole after a judge refused to dismiss his first-degree murder conviction. Broward County Judge Joel Lazarus imposed the mandatory sentence on 14-year-old Lionel Tate, calling the murder of Tiffany Eunick “cold, callous and indescribably cruel.” His attorneys said they will appeal. "



Tate’s mother and attorney had earlier rejected a plea bargain that would have kept the boy out of state prison, and provided counseling as well as putting him on probation for 10 years. That decision led to the jury conviction and Friday’s sentencing at which defense attorney Richard Rosenbaum had sought a competency hearing, arguing that Tate didn’t understand what was at stake during his jury trial."


I’m unaware of any law in any state that gives victims, or their families, the right to veto a proposed plea-bargain. I would suspect that such a law might run afoul of the Due Process clause.

However, it’s not uncommon for prosecutorial discretion to take into account the victims’ reactions, and a prosecutor may well decide to reject a plea if the victim(s) are not agreeable to it.

Several states now have laws the permit the victims to speak at sentencing hearings, to be notified of parole hearings, and to be present during trials. This is, of course, a far cry from having statutorily-granted veto power over plea bargains.

  • Rick

your question doesn’t (I think) reflect the story.

In the story, the defendant’s mother rejected the plea. Since he’s a juvenile, she had to agree to it.
I don’t know of any state that specifically would require a prosecutor to get the victim’s acceptance about plea bargains. I could be wrong.

On a practical matter, however, it usually is to their (prosecutor’s) benefit to at least not get the victim riled. They’d make a powerful advertising tool in the subsequent elections.

My that was embarrassing! Per wring’s comment and having re-read the story (more carefully this time) it appears I transposed the mothers. Chronos or Manhattan please close this thread as question has been asked (even if stupidly) and answered.

No more decaf!!

Looks like Tate’s mother rolled the dice and lost. Too bad, so sad.

Sounds like she should’ve faced some charges as well. Letting her son and the victim stay up to 10:40 at night (even though it was summer)? Letting her 12-year-old babysit a 6-year-old? He was 170 lbs at 12 years old? Did she know about his penchant for wrestling and roughhousing? That he would roughhouse with a little girl?

Sounds like she’s the one who screwed up, and her son’s the one who’s going to have to pay for it.

Back in '82 my father was murdered.

Without going into details the DA felt that he couldn’t get a conviction on murder one and he asked us how we felt about the defendant pleading guilty to manslaughter. (Is it just me or does manslaughter sound worse than murder?)

Any way the DA did consult with the victims family in this case. We ended up agreeing to the plea bargain with some a few more conditions. A restraing order (as he was to serve no time) and psychiatric help for the defendant (as he was a nut). His attorney agreed to all the conditions even though he could have gone with the original charge and got his client off scott free. Why? Because the attorney thought he was a nut.

Sorry astro, but I want to leave this open for now. For although your question is not applicable to the case you cited, I think it is a valid General Question on which not everyone has had the opportunity to weigh in.

I seem to recall that there was a movement afoot to formalize the process of having the DA check with the victim (or the family, if applicable) before a plea bargain is entered into. I don’t recall whether that involved “veto power” over an offered plea, a chance to speak to the judge before s/he accepted it, or something else.

Anyone else recall an effort to formalize this?

In a plea bargain, the prosecutor and defendant agree to skip the trial. Without a plea bargain, the trial goes forward as usual. So, the absence of a plea bargain would not violate the Due Process clause.

The prosecutor is not required to offer or accept a plea bargain.
The defendant is not required to offer or accept a plea bargain.

I don’t know the details of the law in my state, but when I was mugged, the District Attorney gave me the impression that I could veto a plea bargain.

Um, mbh, no offense, but that is hardly a very valid review of the due process concerns raised by Bricker. To review, Bricker said:

In response, you wrote:

This is, actually, inaccurate. A plea ‘bargain’ is an agreement between the State and the accused that the accused will plead ‘guilty’ or ‘nolo contendere’ to a charge that is different than that originally brought, or to the same charge but with stipulations as to the sentence which will be sought by the State (hush, Teeming Millions, yes, that is a bit simplified, but in the main correct :slight_smile: ). Now, we have established that, should the prosecutor confer with the victim in making up his/her mind as to whether to commit the State to a proposed bargain, that would be allright, because the prosecution has discretion in such matters. So far, no problem with due process.

Bricker, however, was (I believe) raising the following hypothetical situation: the State and the accused agree to a ‘bargain’, submit said proposal to the court, and the court then asks the victim if the victim consents to the action of the State. THIS does raise some constitutional issues. After all, the State and the accused are the parties to the criminal proceeding; the victim is not a party. What we would have, then, is both parties to a case unable to proceed with a resolution based on extra-judicial decisions. Arguably, the result would be that the accused’s deprivation of life and or liberty would be controlled by a private party not involved in the court proceding; this certainly raises at a minimum some due process considerations.

Given that Bricker spent some considerable time as a PD, I’d have to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to making an off-the-cuff diagnosis of due process troubles. Mind you, that isn’t to say that a reviewing court wouldn’t find the proceedure valid under the Fourteenth Amendment, just that they would at least have to address the issue, not dismiss it out of hand as irrelevant. :slight_smile:

manhattan asks

here’s one site I found

this includes info re: all 50 states, current to 1995 (ok, so sue me) One list states that only 45 states (at that time) required notification of a plea bargain.


Perhaps “veto” was the wrong word. The DA conferred with me about the defendant’s proposal before the case went before the judge. My input was over whether or not the prosecutor would accept the defendant’s offer. Since this all took place during the negotiations, before it was formally offered in the courtroom, the defendant’s due process was protected.

Had I nixed that deal, the DA and the PD would have continued haggling until they reached a mutually agreeable plea, or they would have held a trial on the original indictment. Either way, the defendant’s due process would have been preserved.

Well, I’ll cop to having little or no legal knowledge, at any rate. To me, the above makes no (common) sense. I’m assuming it makes legal sense of some sort, but I’d still like to know:

How can the victim not be a party in a criminal proceeding? There wouldn’t be one without them, right? The accused allegedly performed a criminal act that involved the victim, yes? They’ll probably be called as a witness if the matter goes to trial, right? :confused::confused::confused:

seeking enlightenment, or at least a flashlight

If you look at the filings for criminal cases it’s always the state (or US, city, county, whatever) vs the criminal. In a very real sense, the victim is not a party to the proceedings.

The prosecutors have to prove several points in most cases and, for example, if they have to prove premeditation for murder, and they don’t think they can, they don’t want highly emotional victims to get in the way of a plea bargan for a lesser charge.

Obviously a victim will have an interest in the outcome but law has some difficulty with the concept that the criminal law is intended to extract retribution on behalf of that victim. When thinking of victims rights we gravitate to the most serious crimes like murder. You need to contemplate this more generally.

Consider the following scenario. I steal your car but am stopped and arrested down the street. You might be irritated and feel a sense of violation but the harm done to you in this circumstance is minimal. My sentence might be a slap on the wrist or a lengthy sentence depending on my record. My crime isn’t less serious because I didn’t manage to get away with it. My sentence will have little to do with the harm I have done you personally but the danger and expense that I, and car thieves generally, pose to society at large.

But lets suppose instead that I murder you. If my name is Dr. Kevorkian, your wife and children may be upset to see me charged. In a more run of the mill case your wife and children might have contact with the prosecutor regarding plea bargains and testify as to the impact of losing you had on their lives in court. On the other hand if you are single and have no immediate family to testify is my crime less serious or deserving of punishment?

It certainly isn’t impossible to design a system where victims are parties. In saudi arabia a murderer can pay the victims family to avoid punishment. So far, at least, if a victim wishes to be a party in our system they bring a civil action.