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Crime Victims May Not Appeal Criminal Sentences, Tenth Circuit Decides

By Brandon Sample

Crime victims may not appeal a defendant's sentence or the denial of rights under the Crime Victims' Rights Act of 2004 (CVRA), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit decided December 2, 2008. Rather, the exclusive remedy for violations of the CVRA, the court held, is through a petition for a writ of mandamus.

Mackenzie Hunter sold a handgun to a juvenile that was later used in the shooting deaths of five individuals at the Trolley Square Shopping Center in Salt Lake City in 2007. Hunter was later indicted for being a drug user in possession of firearm to which he pled guilty. Hunter was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

Sue and Ken Antrobuse, the parents of Vanessa Quinn, one of the victims during the shooting spree, filed a notice of appeal seeking to appeal Hunter's 15 month sentence and the district court's denial of the Antrobuse's motion seeking to certify their daughter as a "victim" of Hunter's crime under the CVRA. The government and Hunter moved to dismiss the Antrobuse's appeal arguing that as non¬parties to the underlying criminal proceeding, the Antrobuses had no right to appeal.

The Tenth Circuit after examining the CVRA and traditional principles regarding the ability of non-parties to appeal a criminal judgment, dismissed the Antrobuses’ appeal. "To our knowledge, there is no precedent — nor any compelling justification — for allowing a non-party, post-judgment appeal that would reopen a defendant's sentence and affect the defendant's rights," the court wrote. See: United States v. Hunter, 548 F.3d 1308 (10th Cir. 2008).

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Related legal case

United States v. Hunter