The Boston Bar Association (BBA) has filed an amicus brief in Commonwealth v. Lugo (SJC-12546) arguing that the non-discretionary application of a sentence of life with the possibility of parole to juveniles convicted of second-degree murder is cruel and unusual punishment under Article 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. The BBA’s brief in Lugo echoes its argument in Commonwealth v. Lutskov earlier this year that all juveniles facing adult prison sentences with mandatory minimum terms should be entitled to an individualized sentencing hearing.
“We are proud to continue our advocacy in opposition to mandatory minimums and in support of criminal justice principles that are constitutionally sound and advance the fair administration of justice,” BBA President Jon Albano, a partner at Morgan Lewis, said.
In Lugo, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court solicited briefs on the question of whether a mandatory sentence of life with the possibility of parole was unconstitutional, and an individualized sentencing hearing required, where the juvenile defendant was convicted of murder in the second degree. Drafted by BBA Amicus Committee member Meredith Shih, of Wood & Nathanson, LLP, the brief posits that all juvenile second-degree murder defendants are entitled to an individualized sentencing hearing. As stated in the brief, the automatic imposition of life with the possibility of parole without such a hearing violates Art. 26 by precluding consideration of the distinctive characteristics of youth recognized in both federal and state constitutional frameworks.
This matter comes on the heels of the Supreme Judicial Court’s September decision in Lutskov, where the court held that without an individualized sentencing hearing, no youthful offender who has committed a non-homicide offense may receive a sentence with parole eligibility longer than that for a juvenile convicted of murder with parole eligibility at fifteen years. The same day, in Commonwealth v. Perez (SJC-12498) (“Perez II”), the court recognized that each individual juvenile is unique and therefore a judge must find that both the defendant and the crime present extraordinary circumstances before imposing what would otherwise be a disproportionately long sentence.
The BBA’s brief points to these recent developments as well as improved scientific understanding of the qualities of youth in noting that “[i]t is a natural progression for this Court to find that art. 26 prohibits the non-discretionary imposition of life with parole for juvenile second-degree murder defendants.”
Shih, who also authored the BBA’s brief in Lutskov, said, “We hope the Court will take this moment to recognize recent scientific and legal developments that have improved our understanding of the distinctive characteristics of youth and continue to expand the notion of justice accordingly, to provide the protections constitutionally necessary to ensure that these distinctions are appropriately incorporated into sentencing for juveniles.”
The SJC will hear oral argument in the Lugo case in November.
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 2018-2019 Amicus Committee is co-chaired by Professor David Siegel of New England Law | Boston and Erin Higgins of Conn Kavanaugh.