USA - Massachusetts. Supreme Court bans 'life without parole' for people under 21

USA - Massachusetts

13 January 2024 :

JANUARY 11, 2024 - Massachusetts. Supreme Court bans 'life without parole' for people under 21, a 1st in the nation
The state’s highest court ruled Thursday that anyone under the age of 21 cannot be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, raising it from under 18. The Supreme Court ruled 4–3, finding that it constitutes “cruel or unusual punishment” under the Massachusetts Constitution. “The judge’s findings in this case ... confirm that the brains of emerging adults are similar to those of juveniles,” Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd wrote in the ruling.
The court had previously ruled in 2013 that defendants under 18 could not be sentenced to life without parole based on the notion that “it is not possible to demonstrate that a juvenile offender is ‘irretrievably depraved,’” thus any such sentence is “cruel or unusual as imposed on a juvenile in any circumstance.”
Thursday’s ruling, in the case Commonwealth v. Sheldon Mattis, essentially extends that finding up to age 21.
In 2013, Mattis was convicted of murder in the shooting death of Jaivon Blake in 2011 — when Mattis was 18. He was sentenced to life without parole. His co-defendant, who was 17, was sentenced to 15 years.
Thursday’s decision will send Mattis’ case back to the court for resentencing, and opens the door for others in Massachusetts prisons serving life without parole to make a case before the state's parole board.
With this decision, Massachusetts became the first state to forbid life sentences without the possibility of parole for people under 21.
Out of the 1,008 people serving life without parole in Massachusetts prisons in 2022, around 1/5 were ages 18 to 20 at the time of their governing offense, according to Department of Correction data analyzed by the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School. The number of people who are immediately eligible for parole depends on a final calculation from the state's parole board.
Offenders will still be required to serve 15 years or a minimum term and make their case to the parole board for a chance to serve the rest of their sentence outside bars.
In the leadup to the decision, some also focused on the racial justice component that such a ruling would have. Researchers at the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality, NYU’s Center on Race, Inequality, and the Law, and Harvard Law School’s Criminal Justice Institute jointly filed an amicus brief, finding that, in Massachusetts, "Black people are serving life without parole for offenses at ages 18-20 at a rate more than sixteen times the rate for White people."


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