Some juveniles convicted of first-degree murder would no longer automatically be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility parole under a bill Gov. Deval Patrick plans to propose, according to the Boston Globe.
Under the proposal, some offenders would be eligible for parole hearings 15 years into their sentence, according to the Globe. Others who participated in murders but did not perform the actual murder could get hearings sooner. Parole boards, however, would still be able to keep the offender behind bars for life.
Patrick planned to formally announce his proposal on Monday, Jan. 28.
The proposal comes in response to a recent U.S. Supreme Court case that ruled juveniles convicted of murder could not be automatically sentenced to life in prison without parole, according to the Globe.
The plan does not address whether sentences for those already serving life in prison without parole would be impacted, according to the Globe. The issue recently arose with Benjamin Peirce, a Newton man convicted of killing Adam Coveney. His attorney argued Peirce should not have been automatically sentenced to life in prison without parole because he was 17 when Coveney was killed. Coveney eventually received a 21- to 25-year prison sentence on manslaughter and firearms charges.
Judges would still be allowed to sentence offenders to life in prison without parole but would have to meet certain criteria regarding the convict’s mental capacity and ability to be rehabilitated.
Also, under the plan, the definition of a teenager would be changed from age 16 and under to age 17 and under, according to the Globe.
State lawmakers have proposed other changes including one that would keep teenage killers in prison for at least 35 years.
Defense attorneys who defend teenage killers have cited increasing evidence their clients are not able to completely understand their offenses as one reason for the proposed change, according to the Globe. Prosecutors, including Middlesex County District Attorney Gerry Leone, however are concerned that easing the rules would not properly reflect the seriousness of the offense.
“Those who kill with deliberate premeditation or extreme atrocity and cruelty should serve at least 35 years before they are eligible for release,” Leone told the Globe in a statement. “For a 15-year-old killer, parole eligibility at age 50 limits the risk of recidivating and still provides a life expectancy of 20 years, where the victim has none.”
- Patrick’s plan would require a judge to consider 11 circumstances before handing down a life sentence without parole to teen killers including: age, maturity, mental ability, how the child was raised and impact on the victims.
- Unless those criteria were met, a judge would be required to sentence the offender to a life sentence with the possibility of parole between 15 and 25 years after the sentence begins.