State lawmakers were urged to enact new laws on Friday by the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association that would require juveniles who are tried as adults and sentenced to life imprisonment on first-degree murder convictions to serve a mandatory minimum of 35 years before becoming eligible for parole.
A state Supreme Court ruling in December of 2013 drastically changed the process of dealing with juvenile offenders who are convicted of serious crimes such as murder. The new proposal outlined in the letter to the state’s Legislature is the first response to that ruling.
The December decision was based on a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that declared the sentencing of juveniles convicted of first-degree murder to life imprisonment without the potential of being released on parole was unconstitutional.
The Massachusetts District Attorneys Associations represents district attorneys statewide who feel that limiting the sentences imposed on juvenile offenders guilt of murder is an insult to the families and friends of their victims.
In the letter the association’s president, Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, wrote, “While not ideal, 35 years of incarceration would provide victims’ families with some sense of justice and provide a small measure of comfort and security to the community in which the murder occurred.”
The state high court is following in the footsteps of recent Supreme Court rulings stating that juveniles should not be held to the same standards as adults because teenage brains are not yet fully developed.
Those in Massachusetts that are found guilty of committing murder that doesn’t fall under the category of first-degree can be paroled after serving 15 years. Adults convicted of first-degree murder, however, have no parole eligibility. The Supreme Court ruling makes it unlawful to apply such a standard to juveniles.
While state courts nationwide have issued a slew of comparable ruling recently, state lawmakers have responded in kind with new legislation. One state, Wyoming, just passed a law requiring juvenile’s convicted of murder to spend at least 25 years before becoming eligible for parole.
Patrick Donovan is a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney. Attorney Donovan is a former assistant district attorney who provides the best legal representation to people charged with felony and misdemeanor crimes.