On the grounds that application of adult mandatory minimum sentences to juveniles violates the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights Article 26 ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the Boston Bar Association (BBA) has filed an amicus brief with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) in the case of Commonwealth v. Lutskov (SJC-12411).
In 2001, Appellant Maksim Lutskov was sentenced to an adult mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison after his conviction as youthful offender of multiple charges in connection with an armed home invasion, which occurred when Lutskov was 16 years old.
The brief, drafted by Meredith Shih of Wood & Nathanson, LLP, on behalf of the BBA’s Amicus Committee, argues that to guarantee that all adult sentences applied to juvenile are proportional, judges in juvenile cases must conduct individualized sentencing hearings, taking into account the factors established in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and must be able to exercise discretion in sentencing based on such consideration.
Our brief posits that both federal and Massachusetts constitutional frameworks support the finding that Article 26 prohibits the application of adult mandatory minimum prison sentences to juveniles adjudicated as youthful offenders. The Supreme Court, in the aforementioned Miller case, held the mandatory imposition of juvenile life-without-parole sentences violates the 8th and 14th amendments, as children are fundamentally different from adults for purposes of sentencing. In Massachusetts, the Supreme Judicial Court has also recognized the unique characteristics of youth in a number of recent decisions, including Diatchenko v. District Attorney for the Suffolk District, 466 Mass. 655 (2013), and Commonwealth v. Perez, 477 Mass. 677 (2017).
“Courts in Massachusetts and across the nation have acknowledged that the decision-making process and rehabilitation potential of young people differs significantly from that of adults. The legal precedent for individualized sentencing for juveniles has been firmly established by Miller and subsequent cases. Our brief argues for continuing that progress toward fairer administration of justice for juveniles in Massachusetts,” Shih said.
“The BBA has spoken out against mandatory minimum sentences for decades, because we do not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to criminal justice. Most recently, in the report No Time to Wait: Recommendations for a Fair and Effective Justice System , we reiterated that opposition,” BBA President Mark Smith said. “In recent cases, the SJC left open the question of whether discretion is constitutionally required in all juvenile sentencing. Now is the time for the Court to answer that question in the affirmative and ensure juvenile sentences are proportional and within the bounds of Article 26.”
The SJC will hear oral argument in the Lutskov case on March 5.
Amicus Curiae means, literally, friend of the court. Since 1975, the BBA has filed amicus briefs on matters related to the practice of law or the administration of justice. The 2017-2018 Amicus Committee is co-chaired by Professor David Siegel of New England Law | Boston and Elizabeth Ritvo, a partner at Brown Rudnick LLP.