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November 20, 2012

Massachusetts taking slow (and unsteady) approach to responding to Miller

The Boston Globe has this new piece about the Bay State's response to the SCOTUS Miller ruling.  The piece is headlined "Mass. seeks new policy on life sentences Youths must get chance of parole," and it gets started this way:

Massachusetts juveniles ­incarcerated for life without ­parole will probably wait well into 2013 or beyond for a chance at reduced prison time, as lawyers, prosecutors, legislators, and advocates carefully craft a strategy to bring the state into compliance with new federal law outlawing the mandatory sentence.

Massachusetts has not been as quick to act as states such as North Carolina and Iowa, which have implemented new laws since June, when the US Supreme Court banned mandatory life without parole for ­juveniles convicted of murder. While change is expected in Massachusetts, either through the courts or legislation, no clear answers have emerged on how to handle new cases and review past convictions involving killers under 18.

Governor Deval Patrick’s point person on the issue wants life without parole banned entire­ly for juveniles, whether mandatory or not. Middlesex District Attorney ­Gerard T. Leone Jr. wants teenage killers to serve a minimum of 35 years before becoming eligible for parole, while the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association has reached no consensus on a solution.

Meanwhile, the state’s public defenders office has mobilized and trained dozens of ­defense lawyers to work with as many as 80 inmates and ­accused teenage killers in Massa­chusetts who could be ­affected by the ruling.

The 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama banned the mandatory sentence, imposed in 29 states, as “cruel and unusual punishment,” but still gives judges discretion to impose life without parole for teenage killers.

Last week, a Middlesex ­Superior Court judge wrote the first decision in the state discussing the consequences of the high court ruling, arguing that the only option available to judges now is to sentence teenage killers to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Legislation would be required, wrote Judge Kathe M. Tuttman, only if the state determines it wants the option to sentence juveniles to life without parole, a process that she said would require legislative guidelines.

November 20, 2012 at 11:48 AM | Permalink

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