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December 26, 2013

Extending Graham and Miller, Massachusetts SJC bars LWOP for all juve offenders

Mass sjcThanks to this Christmas night post at How Appealing, I just discovered that on Christmas eve the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts issued two big related rulings (available here and here) which not only held that the Supreme Court's Miller ruling is to be applied retroactively but also that "all life-without-parole sentences for juvenile offenders, whether mandatory or discretionary, violate art. 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights."  Because I am on the road today, I will not have the chance to consume this significant rulings fully, but I can here link to and quote from this lengthy report on the rulings from the Boston Globe:

The state’s highest court struck down life sentences without parole for juveniles on Tuesday, saying scientific research shows that lifelong imprisonment for youths is cruel and unusual because their brains are “not fully developed.”

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision is retroactive, meaning that, as one example, John Odgren, the suburban special needs student who stabbed 15-year-old James F. Alenson in the bathroom at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School on Jan. 19, 2007, and received a mandatory life sentence, now could have a chance of parole one day.

“We are very hopeful that the parole board is going to examine these kids’ lives carefully and will be giving them a real meaningful opportunity for release,” said Patty Garin, Odgren’s attorney. But some district attorneys said they were concerned about the ruling and would argue against parole in some cases.

The decision is a marked reversal for Massachusetts, where juveniles found guilty of murder have faced some of the harshest laws in the nation. The decision also is notable for its reliance on the growing field of research into the juvenile brain.

“Simply put, because the brain of a juvenile is not fully developed, either structurally or functionally, by the age of eighteen, a judge cannot find with confidence that a particular offender, at that point in time, is irretrievably depraved,” the court wrote. “Therefore, it follows that the judge cannot ascertain, with any reasonable degree of certainty, whether imposition of this most severe punishment is warranted.”...

The ruling goes farther than the Supreme Court decision in 2012 that struck down automatic sentences of life without parole for juveniles.... Because the Massachusetts high court’s decision is retroactive, prisoners sentenced as juveniles will “at the appropriate time” be afforded a parole hearing.

Lawyers said such inmates will have to have served at least 15 years before being considered for parole. There are currently 63 inmates in Massachusetts who were sentenced when they were juveniles to life sentences without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder....

The decision drew immediate praise from Governor Deval Patrick, who in September signed legislation that raises the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18 and has pushed to reduce the number of teenagers sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. “I applaud today’s Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling,” the governor said in a statement. “Young people, even ones who commit terrible crimes, are developmentally and now constitutionally different from adults. Our SJC has wisely held that, while violent felons will be held accountable, youthful ones deserve every opportunity for rehabilitation.”

Some district attorneys questioned the decision. Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett said the ruling will strip away the closure that victims’ families believed they had gained. “I am concerned for families who thought they had finality about their loved ones being murdered,” said Blodgett, who is president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association. “Now they have to go through these parole hearings.”

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said in a statement, “We are mindful of the literature on young adults’ brain development, and we already exercise great discretion in charging juveniles with murder. But we’re also keenly aware of the cases at issue here. Some fact patterns demand life imprisonment. Some defendants do not deserve parole. We will argue — as often and as forcefully as necessary — against parole in those cases.”

For years, Massachusetts has had some of the most punitive penalties in the country for juvenile offenders convicted of murder. Two decades ago a series of brutal murders galvanized public demands for harsher penalties. In 1996, legislators responded with a law that mandated that juveniles 14 years and older charged with murder be tried as adults.

Because Massachusetts’ penalties for first-degree murder is mandatory life without parole juveniles found guilty of that crime faced a lifetime of incarceration. As a result, Massachusetts became a leader in the number of youths facing life sentences without parole.

As of last year, the majority of youth with such sentences were concentrated in Massachusetts and four other states: California, Louisiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, according to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth. “People thought if we have an extreme response, kids would stop doing bad things, and that has not turned out to be true,” said Naoka Carey, executive director of Citizens for Juvenile Justice, a nonprofit based in Massachusetts.

Carey said the SJC ruling brings Massachusetts back to the middle — she noted that other states that have abolished life without parole for juveniles include Wyoming, Colorado, and Texas. “We’re in some conservative company,” she said.

State legislative leaders said they plan to move quickly to overhaul juvenile sentencing laws that might conflict with Tuesday’s ruling. “The legislation currently pending that require the eradication of such sentences will be fast-tracked to ensure constitutional compliance with the ruling of the SJC,” said Representative Eugene L. O’Flaherty, a Chelsea Democrat who is the House chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Carey said there are currently a number of legislative options, but that any law will have to give meaningful opportunity for parole.

The SJC’s ruling came in the case of Gregory Diatchenko, who was 17 in 1981 when he murdered a man in a car in Kenmore Square. He has been in prison for more than three decades. The court ruled that he was eligible to be considered for parole immediately....

“I’m happy that Gregory Diatchenko is going to have a meaningful opportunity for release, which he deserves. He’s a living embodiment of what the [Supreme Court] case was all about. He does not deserve to die in prison. He’s not who he was when he was 17,” said Benjamin Keehn, Diatchenko’s attorney. Keehn was on his way to see his client at MCI Norfolk on Tuesday to relay the news. He said his client is 49 years old, two credits shy of a bachelors degree, and has been a Buddhist for over 10 years.

The court also ruled in the separate case of Marquise Brown, who was convicted of first-degree murder in a 2009 slaying. He has not been sentenced. The court ruled that because Brown was 17 at the time of his crime, he cannot be sentenced to life without parole.

The Diatchenko ruling was unanimous. In a concurring opinion, Justices Ralph Gants, Barbara Lenk, and Fernande R.V. Duffly, emphasized that defendants need to have a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” They urged that decisions on parole be informed by an attention to the “distinctive attributes of youth.

December 26, 2013 at 10:21 AM | Permalink


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Funny how defense lawyers talk about those who commit murder "deserve" to be free.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 26, 2013 12:11:48 PM

And funny how Deval Patrick decides that it's cool that a bunch of guilty killers will be released, but he won't lift a finger to help Gerald Amirault.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 26, 2013 12:15:44 PM

You know who else has brains which are not "fully developed"? Lawyers. Especially lawyers who become judges, which seems to be the only occupation I have ever heard of where mental development goes into reverse.

Posted by: Daniel | Dec 26, 2013 1:36:08 PM

Daniel--what a line!!!!

Take a look at the Globe article--basically one line about the suffering of victims' families who, told that they would never have to endure parole hearings, now must. The Globe reporters, of course, weren't so impolitic as to ask Patrick about that.

Posted by: federalist | Dec 26, 2013 4:45:30 PM

A few years ago, the coddling of young criminals resulted in their being recruited by drug gangs for criminal tasks, including murder. The thinking was they wouold not suffer harsh penalties s adults might. They learn quickly, and develop high levels of criminal skills, as depicted by some characters in The Wire, a fictional TV show, but absolutely true in real life. A character younger than puberty disabled street cameras before an attack on rivals. He opened lids and cut specific wires. Written by a reported, the show also depicted the herding of murders and drug dealing into rotating areas, to alleviate political pressures. They show a perplexed dealer being arrested, and saying, "I thought this area was supposed to be cool, this month." Baltimore is, of course, run by the Democratic Party. Outside of the Inner Harbor tourist area and the stadium, it has been handed over to black criminals. With a safety score up to 100, being safest, Baltimore scores a 4, with triple the victimization rate as the rest of Maryland.


The low rate of crime in Massachusetts is from the fact that minorities are kept from moving there, not from its lenient treatment of criminals. Boston has a bastard rate of 47%, below that of other cities.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 27, 2013 6:37:14 AM

| Adamakis: I am an atheist to the extreme. I believe all this is dumb luck. If there is a God that produced this Universe, it is as beyond our ability
to perceive or understand as an ant can understand Newtonian optics…|

--- --- Is dumb luck your interpretation of phenomena? Why do you not lay down on active railroad tracks ahead of coming trains?
We live in a causal and rational cosmos, which was not beyond Newton’s ability to perceive:

“This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent Being. …
This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all; and on account of his dominion he is wont to be called
“Lord God” παντοκρατωρ [pantokratòr], or “Universal Ruler””.--Principia, bk III. --- ---

| religion. It explains to the average person why they should go to work every day, and take of their families rather than go to the Roman Orgy
every day… more powerful as the criminal law in reducing crime, including helping super sociopaths in prison.|

--- --- Ah the childish “God Delusion”, albeit with a sophisticated, reality-based admission. You are right about the utility, so long as the given
religious ones adhere to a belief in Hell (see previous posts, studies). Oh, but you need read what happened to an aging T. Huxley – Darwin’s “Bulldog”
-- when he futilely attempted to argue this at Oxford (I can relate it sometime). ‘That dog won’t hunt’, as it neither satisfies the soul nor convinces the unenlisted.

“Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”-- II Tim3:5 --- ---

| So I support all mainstream religions. I do not attack or bash religion as the lawyer hierarchy is seeking to eradicate it.|

--- --- That’s got nearly as many Pinocchios as a a Presidential promise (Obama); now how have you expressed yourself concerning the
“Iraqi tribal culture of the authors of the Bible. They lived like animals” 12/10/13 ?

How about this one by Supremacy claus: "As a devout atheist, I still respect religion. For those with IQ's below 125, it summarizes morality," 5/21/10 or
“"The Romans should have executed Paul, James and Peter, summarily, after a trial for one hour. To deter. They should have offered Jesus the plea of a
quick, painless poison, to avoid the attention getting drama and rallying martyrdom." 12/26/10 or "If Medieval methods are reprehensible, this atavism
is from the tribes of Iraq and Biblical times… from Iraqi tribal culture, via the Bible."
4/14/11 [There is so much more forked-tongue material! !] --- ---

|Ironic. The common law is plagiarized from Scholasticism, a church philosophy…Its stupid, worthless procedures…Its central word, reasonable,
is taken from the church…|

--- --- ?? You aligning me or any other biblicist with medieval Roman Catholicism is like comparing Wycliffe to Pope Benedict IX, if you will, or Newton to Aquinas.
What is your alternative to common law? Colonial law in many locales by imperfect people, was based on the Word of God, not Thomistic Scholasticism, and it
was not the Magisterium who uttered:

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD,”—Isaiah 1:18, reinforced by the Dead Sea Scrolls, BTW. --- ---

▼…. ….▼
--- --- Congratulations are in order, sir, being that America is steadily embracing your Atheism and a/immorality, so as the world is bent on becoming a brothel,
enjoy the brother-sister-trans-?-hood!

Posted by: Adamakis | Dec 27, 2013 12:04:48 PM

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