Are crime victims being heard as more cases go to youth court?

Published: Mar. 6, 2019 at 5:18 PM EST
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With the expansion of the state's youthful offender law last summer, more young people who commit crimes are getting the chance to go through the youthful offender process. It's a strict process, but one that's shielded from the public eye and raises the question -- are victims being heard under the new law?

Allegations of extreme bullying made headlines back in December. According to court documents, 17-year-old Ethan Burachowski hit the victim in the head with a back pack inside the band room at Spaulding High School and then attempted to sodomize him with a drumstick.

Grace Pierce, 18, allegedly encouraged the attack and recorded it on her phone. Both pleaded not guilty and were expected back in court last month, but the case disappeared from the public court calendar. While officials are not allowed to confirm this, it's indicative of the case going through the youthful offender process.

The victim's attorney, Brooks McArthur, says his client has been kept updated.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: Do they feel like they are being included in the process enough?

Brooks McArthur: They feel like they've been included in the process so far.

Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio says victim's rights under youthful offender are comprehensive. "Victims can attend any youthful offender hearing, are able to speak at every hearing. The law requires judges to consider what victims have to say at every step of the process," he said.

The process closed from the public eye. McArthur says that's fine with his client, but he understands why the public might be concerned. "I think it's probably a greater concern for the public at large," he said.

A concern that's echoed by the Washington County State's Attorney Rory Thibault. He says some victims are frustrated when they're not able to discuss the case or bring supporters into court with them. "Each victim is different. I think some of them would prefer to have a public profile shined on the acts of someone who has harmed them. Others want it to be intensely private and don't want anyone to know what is going on. There is no right or wrong answer," Thibault said.

As for public safety, Valerio says that's the first thing a judge considers. "Maybe people don't believe in the process or don't trust the process, but you do have a judge, where first thing they are deciding in a youthful offender case is whether or not the person as a matter of public safety is amenable to the youthful offender program," he said.

Officials at the Center for Crime Victim Services said they believe victim's voices are generally heard during the youthful offender process, though how much voice they have may depend on whose court it is.