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United States of America
22.03.01
Urgent Interventions

USA: 14-year-old boy sentenced to life in prison

Case USA 220301.CC
CHILD CONCERN

The International Secretariat of OMCT requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Florida, United States of America.

Brief description of the situation

The International Secretariat of OMCT is very concerned about the sentence to life imprisonment without parole pronounced on 9 March 2001 against Lionel Tate, a 14-year-old boy, by Broward Country Judge Joel T. Lazarus.

Lionel Tate has been found guilty of the murder of Tiffany Eunick, a 6-year-old girl. The death of Tiffany Eunick occurred on 28 July 1999 at Tate’s Home, when Lionel Tate was 12 years old, and resulted from injuries caused when Lionel Tate inflicted a beating upon her. On 11 August 1999, the Grand jury indicted Lionel Tate and charged him with first-degree murder as an adult.

According the World Organisation Against Torture USA (WOAT USA), OMCT’s USA delegation, twice before the trial, prosecutor Ken Padowitz offered Lionel Tate a plea bargain to second-degree murder at a sentence of three years in a juvenile facility, one year house arrest, ten years probation and 1,000 hours of community service. Tate's defence team felt there would be no conviction, so they refused the offer.

On 16 January 2001, the trial began and on 9 March 2001 the judge sentenced Lionel Tate to life in prison without parole, dismissing any suggestion that Lionel Tate accidentally killed Tiffany Eunick while mimicking pro wrestlers.

Lionel Tate is currently in the Okeechobee Juvenile Offender Correction Center, where he will remain until he is 16, after which he will finish his sentence in an as yet unknown adult penitentiary.

WOAT USA reported that Prosecutor Ken Padowitz has now offered to help seek clemency for Lionel Tate with Governor Jeb Bush of Florida. He has not yet made a statement about how much time he will ask the Governor to shorten the sentence by, but hints that it may be similar to his pre-trial offer.

The International Secretariat of OMCT expresses its grave concern about this situation, and particularly over the physical and psychological safety and integrity of Lionel Tate. There is no doubt that any person convicted of a crime should receive the appropriate sentence and sanction. Nevertheless, OMCT strongly supports the principles enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in particular article 37 which forbids the imposition of “life imprisonment without possibility of release (…) for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age” and article 40 recognising “the right of every child (…) recognised as having infringed the penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and worth, (…) which takes into account the child’s age and desirability of promoting the child’s reintegration (…)”.

OMCT particularly deplores the current juvenile justice system of the State of Florida which allows, inter alia, for mandatory waiving of juvenile court jurisdiction for children of 14 years of age and over. Furthermore, it sets the protection of the community, and not the best interests of the child, as the first criteria for the court decision on the motion to transfer for prosecution as an adult (see 2000 Florida Statutes, Title XLVII, Chapter 985: Delinquency; Interstate Compact on Juveniles).

OMCT also notes that United States of America is the only country, together with Somalia, which have not ratified yet the Convention on the Rights of the Child.


Action requested:

Please write to the authorities in Florida, United States of America, urging them to:

i. review the court documentation and grant Lionel Tate clemency;
ii. guarantee his safety and his physical and psychological integrity;
iii. proceed as a matter of urgency to a reform of the current juvenile justice system of Florida to ensure that the best interests of the child would be one of the fundamental principles;
iv. develop and implement programmes aiming at preventing any form of violence and violent behaviour, especially targeting children;
v. guarantee the respect of human rights and the fundamental freedoms throughout the country in accordance with international human rights standards and in particularly the UN Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice.

Addresses

Governor Jeb Bush , The Capitol, Talahassee Fl, 32399-0001, Tel: +1-850-488-4441, Fax:+1-850-487-0801, e-mail: jeb@myflorida.com and fl_governor@myflorida.com

Frank Brogan, Lieutenant Governor, The Capitol, Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001, Phone +1-850-488-4711, Fax: +1-850/921-6114, e-mail fl_ltgov@myflorida.com

Charles Canady, General Counsel, Legal Affairs Office, Phone +1-850 / 488-3494, Fax +1-850 / 488-9810
John M. McKay, Senator, president of the Office of the Senate, President Suite 409, The Capitol, 404 South Monroe Street, Tallahassee 32399-1100, Phone +1-850-487-5229, e-mail: mckay.john.web@leg.state.fl.us

Tom Feeney, Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Capitol Office: Room 420, The Capitol, 402 S. Monroe St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-1300, Phone +1-850-488-1450, e-mail: feeney.tom@leg.state.fl.us


Geneva, 22 March 2001

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
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