The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled Wednesday that it is unconstitutional for sex offenders who have completed their sentences to be subject to lifetime supervision by the state’s Parole Board, declaring that only judges have the authority to order additional jail time for criminal violations.
The 6-1 decision ordered an end to the state Parole Board’s oversight of an estimated 300 sex offenders — oversight that allowed the board to impose jail sentences for parole violations — in a ruling that many lawyers declared a victory for due process. But victims’ rights advocates and a state prosecutor said they fear the decision removes a critical safeguard.
“The effect this case has is to remove that automatic hammer on offenders who refuse to confine their actions to the requirements of the law, thereby decreasing their incentive to improve themselves and become law-abiding members of society,” Plymouth District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz said in a statement. “I am disappointed with the loss of this public safety tool that was intended to protect vulnerable people and children.”
The court said the 1999 state law that created “community parole supervision for life’’ for some sex offenders unconstitutionally granted sentencing powers to the Parole Board, which is part of the executive branch of the state government, violating the separation of government powers. An offender sentenced to lifetime parole could be sent to jail for violating the terms set forth by the Parole Board, even after the offender’s original sentence is completed.
Lifetime parole “constitutes an impermissible delegation to the executive branch of the core judicial function of imposing sentences,” Justice Ralph D. Gants wrote for the majority. “A judicially imposed sentence is final and may not be modified by another branch.’’
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