The Massachusetts House of Representatives has passed legislation in response to recent judicial decisions deeming juvenile sentences without the possibility of parole unconstitutional.
The new framework applies to individuals between the ages of 14 and 18 convicted of first-degree murder. Under the legislation, individuals convicted of first-degree murder with “deliberate premeditation with malice aforethought” or “extreme cruelty and atrocity,” become eligible for parole in 25 to 30 years. Those convicted of felony murder become parole eligible in 20-25 years.
“As public servants our most pressing responsibility is ensuring the safety of the public,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo (D-Winthrop) said. “Following state and federal court actions, the House felt it was necessary to create a strong framework for protecting our residents while accounting for the special circumstances associated with juvenile offenders. I am grateful for the input from the many committed organizations, families and legislators who helped craft this fair and balanced bill.”
“After much deliberation and testimony, we believe that this bill strikes a balance between the need for just and firm sentences for the most horrific crime in our society, and the special circumstances of juvenile offenders,” said Vice-Chairman Christopher Markey (D-Dartmouth).
To shield victims’ families from having to testify excessively, the legislation establishes a ten year setback period that allows the parole board to extend the period of time before a prisoner can next present himself or herself to the board. This is only applicable in the most extreme cases, when prisoners make no effort to rehabilitate themselves.