Why We Support the Elkhart 4
It has been a few months since the Elkhart 4 hearing at the Indiana Supreme Court. All involved on both sides of the debate are eagerly waiting for the ruling from the Court.
One of the most common questions we get is “why do you spend all this time supporting the Elkhart 4?” We decided to spend a few moments today to discuss why we have put all this work into this case, and these boys.
DEBATE IS GOOD . . . . there are many, especially in Elkhart Indiana, who want this case to go away. They don’t appreciate that this case has captured the imagination of the national and international press and they don’t understand why across the world people are advocating for Blake, Levi, Jose and Anthony. But underlying the conversation around this case is a genuine debate not only about the Elkhart 4, but about justice. People who engage in a thoughtful and carefully articulated conversation about justice is good and should be encouraged. We believe we are engaging in such a debate. In our opinion this case revolves around many issues, but the for us the central issues are the felony murder rule, clarity of law and juvenile justice.
FELONY MURDER RULE . .. . if you read Emily Pfund’s article “MTV’s ‘One Bad Choice’ latest in national, international coverage of Elkhart Four Case” published on Wednesday March 4, 2015 in the Elkhart Truth you would have read “Indiana’s felony murder law says that if someone dies during the commission of a felony such as burglary, everyone involved in that crime can be charged with murder, even if it’s a co-conspirator who dies.” Pfund has chosen to present to her readers a very simplistic, and in many ways misleading definition of the Felony Murder Rule.We believe the reason this case has caught the attention of many in the Indiana legal world is the fact that as written the Indiana Felony Murder law is not how Ms. Pfund interprets in and should not be applied to the Elkhart 4. The law as written states:“A person who kills another human being while committing or attempting to commit arson, burglary, (and a list of 12 other offences) commits murder, a felony”The argument in this case is that Blake, Levi, Jose and Anthony did not kill anyone . . . the homeowner did.Ms. Pfund states, “even if it’s a co-conspirator who dies.” But here are the quotes of other experts on this law which suggest it is not as simplistic as Ms. Pfund believes.
Ryan Dvorak an Indiana State Representative and lawyer “If you actually read the statute, the language of the statute probably would not apply to the kids in this case (Elkhart 4).
Joel M. Schumm a respected Indiana Law Professor in a brief supporting the appeals to the Elkhart 4 wrote, “Indiana’s felony murder and accomplice liability statutes do not permit a conviction where a third-party not involved in the underlying felony commits the murder or when a defendant’s co-perpetrator is the victim.”
Most powerfully at the recent Indiana Supreme Court hearing (minute 26:58) Justice Massa stated in response to the argument of the state, “I think Counsel for the Appellant is arguing that we ought to construe the statute according to its plain meaning. Kills means kills and if the legislature wanted it to be broader then they should use language like ‘contributes to the death.’
There is a lot of controversy surrounding the meaning of the Indiana Felony Murder Rule. That controversy is central in this debate. We are arguing in this debate because we believe the law needs to be clarified, and right now only the Indiana Supreme Court (or the legislature) can do this. We believe that media in Elkhart has a responsibility to articulate this debate over the language of the law, rather than incorrectly define the law, which is what the Elkhart Truth continues to do.
THE LAW SHOULD BE CLEAR . . . no matter the outcome of the Indiana Supreme Court arguments we believe that there is a responsibility of legal experts and lawmakers to make the law clear. If Indiana want to have a felony murder law and wants to impose it in situations like the Elkhart 4 case then the State Legislature should compose the law in a way that makes this clear. Take for example the law in Florida . . . the law clearly sets out two forms of Felony Murder (1st degree and 2nd degree). First Degree Felony Murder is when one of the perpetrators kills an innocent. Second Degree is when someone not involved in the crime kills someone as a response to the crime. This legal construction is very different then the wording of the Indiana law, which is rather ambiguous when applied to cases like the Elkhart 4. In our opinion citizens have the right to know and clearly understand the meaning of the laws they are required to follow.
JUVENILE JUSTICE . . . . there are a whole group of people who use the word “men” when referring to Blake, Levi and Jose. We believe these are people who deep down need to convince themselves that how the justice system dealt with these boys was just fine. Blake was 16, Jose was 16 and Levi was 17 when they broke into Mr. Scotts house. These boys were juveniles. How do we know this? Well, they could not vote . . . because they were not 18. They could not own a gun . . . because they were not 18. They could not get married without parental approval . . . because they were not 18. They could not dropout of school without parental permission . . . because they were not 18. They could not drink alcohol . . .because they were not 21. So the state on Indiana in its wisdom has decided to limit the participation in all of these areas based on age. The notion that Indiana has presented is that humans before the age of 18 are not mature enough to own guns, vote, marry or leave school. The stricter rules for alcohol consumption shows the concern the State has with youth drinking.Blake was 16, Jose was 16, Levi was 17.
Do the Elkhart 4 deserve to be punished for burglary? YES!!! Do they deserve decades in prison because they failed to anticipate all the complex variables that might occur when they foolishly and selfishly decided to break into the house? This is an essential question that is being ignored in the media and needs to be explored in depth.We believe there are good reasons why the juvenile justice system was founded. We believe that these boys are good candidates to experience the support, education and guidance of the juvenile system with the hope of rehabilitation.
These boys did not set out to murder someone. They were unarmed. They were stupid, selfish, ignorant thugs that day, and need punishment, however, they were not murders. But they have been judged as such. This is wrong, and those who insist on using the word ‘men’ to describe them know this. If they truly felt that this was just they would have no problem saying that a 16 year old kid deserves decades in adult prison for the unintentional death of their friend.
These are the reasons we support the Elkhart 4. We believe that through debate, legal arguments and a bit of luck there might be a future of Blake, Levi, Jose and Anthony away from Indiana Prisons.