The Boston Bar Association (BBA) is very pleased with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) decisions today in Commonwealth v. Lutskov (SJC-12411) and Commonwealth v. Perez (SJC-12498). Taken together, these rulings recognize the unconstitutional nature of applying adult mandatory minimum prison sentences to certain juveniles adjudicated as youthful offenders.
In February, the BBA filed an amicus brief in the Lutskov case. Because of the unique characteristics of youth, recognized by both the U.S. Supreme Court and the SJC, the brief argued that applying adult mandatory minimum sentences to juveniles violates the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights Article 26 ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
Today, the Lutskov court held that no youthful offender who has committed non-homicide offenses may receive a sentence with parole eligibility longer than that for a juvenile convicted of murder without an individualized sentencing hearing. Their decision builds on the SJC’s 2017 decision in Commonwealth v. Perez, 477 Mass. 677—that, absent extraordinary circumstances, no juvenile may receive a mandatory sentence in such a case.
The BBA is also pleased with today’s outcome in the companion “Perez II” case. The court clarified that the sentencing judge must find that both the defendant and the crime present extraordinary circumstances before imposing what would otherwise be a disproportionately-long sentence.
“The Boston Bar Association has long opposed mandatory minimums in general because of their inability to produce true justice, but such a one-size-fits-all approach is especially problematic when the offender is a minor,” said BBA President Jonathan Albano, a partner at Morgan Lewis. “We applaud the SJC on this pair of decisions, which collectively advance the cause of fair administration of justice in criminal cases involving juveniles.”
The BBA amicus brief in Lutskov argued that to guarantee that sentences applied to juveniles are proportional and appropriate, and before imposing a mandatory minimum adult sentence, judges in juvenile cases must conduct individualized sentencing hearings, taking into account the factors established in the Supreme Court’s landmark in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), and must be able to exercise discretion in sentencing based on such consideration.
The brief was drafted by Meredith Shih of Wood & Nathanson, LLP, on behalf of the BBA’s Amicus Committee, co-chaired at the time by Elizabeth Ritvo of Brown Rudnick LLP and David Siegel of New England Law | Boston.
“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 BBA is very pleased that the SJC took this into account as it rendered its decisions,” Shih said.
Interested parties can read more about this in the BBA’s February 26 press release upon the filing of its amicus brief in the Lutskov case, in the BBA’s “Issue Spot” offering background on the case, or in the BBA’s amicus brief itself.