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.
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