The Balanced Justice Project at FIU Law
The Balanced Justice Project
Balancing the best interests of victims, offenders, & our community to achieve justice & reduce crime.
Balanced Justice is an initiative developed out of the Florida Center for Capital Representation and the Juvenile Resentencing and Review Project at FIU College of Law. It is a non-profit operating via FIU Foundation and a legal aid instrument within FIU’s Law Clinic.
Cross-disciplinary Approach to Achieve Justice
BJP brings together students, practitioners and scholars to incorporate cross-disciplinary perspectives to provide a holistic approach to the criminal justice system. Together, BJP provides cutting-edge, legal and investigative assistance, empirical research, trainings and educational programs designed to achieve justice and reduce crime.
Restorative Justice and Mitigation
BJP seeks to improve the criminal justice system by infusing it with creative strategies and additional tools under-utilized today, such as restorative justice and mitigation. Restorative justice practices focus on how best to repair the harm resulting from crime by greater victim engagement, individual accountability and community involvement. For example, victim-offender/family dialogues, reparative boards, community courts and truth/reconciliation commissions. Social science studies reveal that, when implemented appropriately, a reduction in crime, especially for serious violent offenses, at a lesser cost than the current administratively complex, adversarial system, and victims and offenders report a greater sense of justice.
Mitigation is any factor that could impact a person’s culpability and/or the proportionality of any sentence. It places the crime and individuals involved into a social context via a life history investigation. It provides critical information to the decision-making by the state attorney, judge and jurors but also to the victim and community who commonly seek explanation to gain understanding and find resolution. When collected and presented properly, whether formally before the court or informally in dialogues between the key players, mitigation evidence tells the story of how the situation came to be. Mitigation tells the story and storytelling is at the heart of restorative justice. We are the legal storytellers that use restorative justice and mitigation as our medium. Our goal is to shine light on the people behind the cases, giving both the offender and the victim their chance to be at the center of the stage.
Despite increasing evidence that restorative justice and mitigation can address serious issues underpinning the current criminal justice system (the American system and Florida within it, is one of the most punitive states with its treatment of juveniles as adults, its high death penalty use and incarceration rate that far exceeds the national average), there are insufficient resources and programs to adequately prepare the future generations and help current professionals in the field.
Our Services and Priorities
The BJP addresses this through its legal assistance, research, training and education programs. In addition to assistance on litigation strategy, plea negotiations, jury selection and securing pro bono lawyers, it provides direct services as mitigation specialists and assist with victim-outreach services. BJP goes beyond cases of innocence with DNA issues only. It prioritizes cases involving juveniles charged as adults, foreign nationals and the most severe of penalties. BJP aims to to appropriate cases for restorative justice practices and expand its current research to monitor its long-term benefits. Finally, BJP ensures that the future generations will benefit from real-life experience via experiential learning which will benefit the community by greater engagement and an improved criminal justice system.
Florida Center for Capital Representation at FIU Law
Florida Center for Capital Representation (FCCR) at Florida International University College of Law was founded in 2014 to support defense attorneys representing defendants facing the death penalty in Florida. To that end, FCCR provides free case-consultation and litigation-support services, as well as capital-litigation training programs, to defense attorneys and mitigation specialists across the State. With a strong emphasis on developing mitigation to obtain death-penalty waivers and pleas, FCCR seeks to train and assist capital defense teams in resolving cases short of a death sentence.
With decades of combined experience representing Florida’s capital defendants at all levels, FCCR staff understand the unique characteristics and challenges associated with capital representation in Florida, offering defense teams consultation services and direct assistance in the following areas:
- Mitigation & Litigation Strategy
- Mitigation/Waiver Letters & Packages
- Plea Negotiations
- Voir Dire Techniques
- Motion Practice
- Jury Instructions
- Mental Health and Other Clinical Issues
- Referrals to Appropriate Experts
- Capital Litigation Training
Capital defense teams are strongly encouraged to contact FCCR as early in the representation as possible.
To request assistance, complete the form at the bottom of this page.
Juvenile Resentencing and Review Project
The United States Supreme Court held in Graham v. Florida (2010) and Miller v. Alabama (2012) that children may not be sentenced to life without parole without taking in consideration the unique characteristics of youth. In 2014, Florida lawmakers passed legislation requiring individualized sentencing hearings for juveniles who are facing life in prison. The legislation also provides for eventual judicial review of the sentence in lieu of parole. In 2015, Florida Supreme Court decided in Falcon v. State that Miller must be retroactively applied. There are nearly a thousand juveniles in Florida who are serving life or de facto life sentences who are now entitled to be re-sentenced.
The Florida Resentencing and Review Project at the FIU College of Law was created with the goal of ensuring that each juvenile in the State of Florida who is either already serving or subject to adult sanctions receives a robust and comprehensive defense. The focus of the Project is to provide consultation and training for attorneys who are representing juveniles in the adult system, collect data in the wake of the decisions in Miller and Graham, and advise on policy and legislation affecting juveniles who are subject to prosecution as adults. The project is lead by co-ordinatoring attorney, Roseanne Eckert.
To request assistance, please complete the form below.
Prosecution Innocence Project
The Prosecution Innocence Project is a non-litigation criminal investigative externship placement in partnership with the Conviction Integrity Review Unit of the State Attorney’s Office for the Fourth Judicial Circuit of Florida (Duval County). Students have the opportunity to participate in a thorough and actual review of the of the prosecution file, including arrest and booking reports, general offense reports, supplemental reports, witness statements, law enforcement interviews, jail calls, 911 calls, lab reports, depositions, photographs and any other items of note. Students will develop an understanding of the many components of criminal investigation, trial and post-conviction proceedings. Students will also hone research and writing skills, as they write legal memoranda on a variety of subjects including competency of counsel, forensic science, Brady/Giglio evidence, legalities of police investigations, post-conviction remedies and the intricacies of a criminal trial. The placement is in Miami and does not require status as a certified legal intern (CLI). For more information, please contact Phyllis Kotey.
Hannah Gorman, Director, The Balanced Justice Project
Hannah Gorman is the director of The Balanced Justice Project at Florida International University’s College of Law and a research scholar based at the Florida Center for Capital Representation at Florida International University’s College of Law (FCCR). She is a dual qualified attorney (United Kingdom and USA – New York) with a license to practise as a mitigation specialist in Florida.
Hannah leads the Florida Center for Capital Representation’s state-wide research and assists legal teams with capital cases. In particular, she provides assistance with empirical evidence and data collection, jury selection, life history investigation and victim outreach. Hannah has extensive experience in representing foreign nationals and conducting in-field investigation overseas. She has worked on cases in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Oregon and Florida as well as in South East Asia and the Middle East. She also co-teaches the death penalty module and directs the death penalty clinic at FIU with a special focus on international human rights law.
Hannah was formerly associate director of the Centre for Human Rights at Birmingham City University, UK where she co-directed/founded the law school's pro bono clinic. She previously practised as a solicitor-advocate in criminal and public law (right to education; property rights of indigenous tribes; right to life; right to freedom of religion; right not to be subjected to torture) in the UK and worked with the United Nations, European Union and various governments around the world on best consular practice for national detained overseas. She has also drafted and co-ordinated the filing of amicus briefs on various key issues such as juvenile sentencing (Graham & Sullivan v. Florida; Miller v. Alabama; Jackson v. Arkansas), death row phenomena and the application of scientific principles in determining intellectual disability.
Stephen K. Harper, Founding Director, Florida Center for Capital Representation and Juvenile Resentencing and Review Project
Stephen K. Harper is the Founding Director of the Florida Center for Capital Representation and Juvenile Resentencing and Review Project as well as the death penalty clinic and course at FIU College of Law. For 29 years, Stephen K. Harper worked at the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office, serving the last 17 as Co-coordinator of the Capital Litigation Unit where he was primarily responsible for the gathering and presentation of mitigation evidence in capital cases. From 1989-1995, Mr. Harper served as the Chief of the Juvenile Division. In 2002, he took a two-year leave of absence to coordinate the Juvenile Death Penalty Initiative, a project culminating with his oversight of the drafting and filing of amicus curiae briefs in Roper v. Simmons.
Mr. Harper has lectured nationally and internationally on both juvenile and death penalty issues. He worked on the American Bar Association’s Guidelines Advisory Committee and participated in the revision of the ABA Guidelines for the Appointment and Performance of Defense Counsel in Death Penalty Cases. Mr. Harper also consulted with and advised the military defense team in a case involving a child soldier in Guantanamo under the Military Commissions Act, United States v. Omar Ahmed Khadr, as well as in the death-penalty cases of Abdul Kabir v. Quarterman and Brewer v. Quarterman, important decisions relating to the presentation of mitigation evidence in capital trials.
Roseanne Eckert, Co-ordinating Attorney, Juvenile Resentencing and Review Project
Roseanne Eckert is a board certified criminal trial lawyer who began her career in indigent defense at the Office of the Public Defender in the Ninth Judicial Circuit. In 2004, Ms. Eckert moved to Ft. Lauderdale to work for the Office of the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel where she represented death-sentenced inmates in their postconviction litigation and appeals in both state and federal courts including the U.S. Supreme Court. She has also conducted numerous evidentiary hearings mostly involving claims of ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to present mitigation as well as hearings involving intellectual disability as a bar to execution. Ms. Eckert has served on the Criminal Law Certification Committee and she is a current member of the Criminal Rules Committee. In 2017, the Broward County Chapter of the ACLU presented her with the Profile in Courage Award for her work in juvenile justice.
Eric R. Carpenter, Affiliated Scholar
Military law, death penalty litigation, sexual assault law and policy—Professor Eric Carpenter is a nationally-recognized expert. He routinely provides relevant, insightful, engaging, and unbiased commentary on these topics to the media, including The Today Show, CBS Radio, the Wall Street Journal, Time Magazine, the Associated Press, The Hill, and Stars & Stripes, to name a few.
More than a scholar and expert, he has lived and worked in the world of military justice. He served in the Army as a helicopter pilot and is a graduate of Ranger School and Airborne School. He was a judge advocate, serving as prosecutor, supervising defense counsel, and Chair of the Criminal Law Department at the Army’s law school. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2003. And as an elected member of the National Institute of Military Justice and the ABA’s Military Justice Committee, he writes influential articles on military justice system reform.
Not content to comment from the sidelines, he is still active in death penalty litigation. He is a consultant on the 9/11 commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and continues to advise judge advocates who defend service members in capital courts-martial. His experience is deep—while in the Army, he served as the lead defense attorney on a capital murder case and was part of the task force that wrote the current regulations for capital litigation in the Army. He is a member the National College of Capital Voir Dire and speaks regularly on this trial technique around the country. He has written several articles on how jurors view the death penalty.
Karen Gottlieb, Adjunct Professor, Prosecutor Innocence Project, Former Co-Director of Florida Center for Capital Representation
With almost 40 years’ experience as an appellate lawyer, the first 15 of which were spent in the appellate division of the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s office, Gottlieb focuses on capital cases and cases in which juveniles have been sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment. She has represented criminal defendants in more than 250 appeals and extraordinary writs in Florida and federal courts, and on certiorari petitions in the Supreme Court of the United States.
Gottlieb is the former chair of the Florida Public Defenders’ Capital Litigation Steering Committee, and has served on the Board of Directors of the Florida Capital Resource Center since 2013. She has lectured on effective appellate advocacy and various death-penalty topics for the Florida Public Defenders’ Association, the Florida Bar, the Dade County Bar Association, the South Carolina Bar Association, the Florida Conference of Circuit Court Judges, the St. Thomas Law Review Symposium, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Vermont Law School Capital Punishment Symposium.
For the past four years, Gottlieb has been a member of the amicus committee of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense. She currently serves as the committee’s co-chair, and has authored numerous amicus briefs in capital cases in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of the United States, and on other ground-breaking criminal-law issues in the Florida District Courts of Appeal, the Supreme Court of Florida, and the Supreme Court of the United States.
In 2015, Gottlieb filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of former Supreme Court of Florida Justices in Hurst v. Florida, in which the Court granted certiorari to consider whether Florida’s capital punishment system violates the Sixth or Eighth Amendments to the Constitution. Also in 2015, Gottlieb successfully represented Rebecca Falcon in the Supreme Court of Florida, establishing that the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama must be applied retroactively to preclude a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for juvenile homicide defendants. This decision will require the re-sentencing of more than 200 Florida children who were sentenced to lifetime incarceration.
Gottlieb has co-authored chapters on capital litigation for the Florida Public Defenders’ Death Penalty Manual and on appellate procedure for The Florida Bar’s Appellate Practice Treatise. She is a recipient of the ACLU’s Nelson Poynter Civil Liberties Award for her death-penalty work and the President’s Service Award from the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Miami-Dade Chapter, for her amicus briefs. She is a member of the Rosemary Barkett Inn of Court and is listed on the Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register of Prominent Women Lawyers.
Deborah Goldfarb, Affiliated Faculty, Legal Psychology
Kevin Lothridge, Affiliated Faculty, Global Forensic and Justice Center
The Impact of Hurst on Florida’s Death Row
In January 2016, Florida’s capital sentencing statute was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in Hurst v. Florida. Since this time the Florida Supreme Court has made a number of subsequent decisions that determined the provisions of the new statute particularly the requirement of jury unanimity and the law surrounding the retroactive application of those already under a sentence of death (Hurst v. State, Perry v. State, Mullens v. State, Asay v. State, Mosley v. State, Silva v. State, Poole v. State). In other words, what would happen to those who were sentenced under the old, now unconstitutional, scheme?
The Florida Center for Capital Representation reviewed the appeals of those on death row as well as any new proceedings that followed with a view to providing critical information on the impact of Hurst. The empirical research continues but, as of June 2020, the Center’s analysis indicated that 145 people (of a potential 151) obtained new penalty phase trials on the basis of Hurst relief. One hundred remain pending in a pre-trial posture with eight being resentenced to death and 37 to Life without the possibility of parole. Significantly, 75% of those on Florida’s death row at the time of Hurst were sentenced to death on the recommendation of a less than unanimous jury but only 40% will receive relief. In other words, over a third of death row, despite having been sentenced to death on a majority jury recommendation held unconstitutional under Hurst, will not receive relief like the rest.
For more information, please see the article here. In addition, the Florida Center for Capital Representation collaborated with the Death Penalty Information Center to provide a summary of Hurst and its ongoing impact available via DPIC’s website.
Geographical Variances in the Use of the Death Penalty Across Florida
The Florida Center for Capital Representation’s research on first degree murders revealed a geographical variance of the application of the death penalty across the State. Please find full article here.
Jury Unanimity in Death Sentences
The Florida Center for Capital Representation commissioned Public Policy Polling to conduct a survey of Florida Registered Voters during the first week of February 2016. The objective was to ascertain public sentiment regarding the necessity of unanimous jury decision prior to someone being sentenced to death. The findings of the survey indicate that the majority of the community strongly supports requiring juries in death penalty cases to make a unanimous decision before deciding to sentence a person to death. The survey also asked questions regarding public support for the death penalty. Read the result of the survey here.
Public Preference for Life over Death
In the 2016, the survey commissioned by the Florida Center for Capital Representation demonstrated that the majority of the public who were asked about their views regarding the punishment for people convicted of murder prefer a life over death sentence, with a small minority electing life with the possibility of parole. Read the results of the survey here.
- Professor Harper Quoted in Orlando Sentinel on Florida Supreme Court and the Death Penalty
- Professor Harper quoted in the The Christian Science Monitor
- Professor Harper Awarded 2020 Juvenile Law Center’s Leadership Prize
- Professor Harper quoted in the Orlando Sentinel
- Professor Harper Quoted in Florida Phoeinx
- Professor Harper Quoted in the Miami Herald
- Professor Harper Interviewed by The Wall Street Journal and The Miami Herald
- Professor Stephen k. Harper Quoted in Florida Times-Union
- Prof. Harper Provides Insight on New Death Penalty Fix
- A final defense: FIU Law Clinic helps educate lawyers handling death penalty cases
The Balanced Justice Project at FIU Law relies on donations and foundation grants to carry out its work.
If you would like to contribute, please click the button below, select “College of Law Clinical Programs” and allocate your designation.