Law Students Fighting for Victims’ Dignity, Privacy & Respect
September 07, 2016
Each term – fall, summer, winter - Lewis & Clark Law students in their second or third year of law school join the NCVLI legal team as part of the Crime Victim Litigation Clinic. These students undertake intense research and writing on victims’ rights issues helping with cases being litigated in state, federal and military courts across the country and drafting model legislation or practice guides.
Students across the summer and fall 2016 terms have been working on a landmark privacy case before the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
In 2012, 19 year old New Hampshire college student Lizzi Marriott was murdered and raped. Her perpetrator was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. During pretrial proceedings at the trial court many allegations were made about Lizzi and her private life. The trial court twice ruled that the allegations were irrelevant to the proceedings and sealed all of the documents related to the allegations. Today, nearly four years after her murder and rape, Lizzi’s family is fighting, yet again, to keep these records and allegations—allegations that Lizzi can no longer refute—sealed in order to preserve a sliver of privacy and dignity. This fight is happening now because when the perpetrator appealed his conviction, arguing, in part, that the trial court erred in excluding some of the information and during the pendency of that appeal, the New Hampshire Supreme Court, in a June decision unrelated to the merits of the appeal, issued an order to unseal the information and make it available to the public.
Upon learning of the ruling from the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, NCVLI immediately jumped in to help. Fortunately we have been able to co-counsel in our representation with an amazing lawyer on the ground in New Hampshire – Cyrus Rilee. We have formally intervened in the appeal to fight for the victims, arguing that to allow unfettered public access to this information in this Internet Age would mean that information protected by various privacy laws, including rape shield, will enter and remain in the public domain, forever haunting Lizzi’s family. The privacy and dignity rights and interests that justified sealing the rape shield records below did not magically disappear when defendant filed an appeal, and that the public’s right of access—a mechanism that is intended to hold the government accountable to the people—cannot be a weapon that eviscerates victims’ rights.
Students in the summer Clinic worked on the initial brief on appeal and the fall clinic students are working on the reply brief and helping prepare the case for oral argument. When asked about her experience working on this case third year law student Megan Munroe said “[w]orking on the New Hampshire case in particular gave me a more tangible appreciation for the profound breadth of effects that one case can have on the rights at stake, not just for one victim, but for the citizens of an entire state.”
When asked about the clinic experience in general Megan said, “I found the clinic experience tremendously rewarding. I gained practical skills in research and writing, as well as valuable feedback from the clinic’s staff attorneys. Criminal law is a new area of interest for me, and I came to the clinic with a mind for defense. I now know that victims’ and defendants’ rights are not mutually incompatible, and a fair trial necessitates that each has a meaningful place in the courtroom.” Another student from the summer clinic, 3L Sofia Pasarow, said, “the clinic gave me the valuable opportunity to learn more about crime victims’ rights. … I learned that crime victims are a significant class of persons who have specific rights and their own place in the criminal justice system.”
The work of the Clinic involves cutting edge legal issues that impact victims and their families nationwide. The work of the law students goes a long way toward securing a fair and just criminal justice system for everyone! Visit ncvli.org regularly to keep up with the case.