Massachusetts Strike Down Mandatory Life Sentences for Juveniles by Jason E Lau

Last year, the Massachusetts supreme judicial court made a landmark decision that will not only affect the lives of countless young offenders in their state, but also the lives of those across the country. In December 2013, the supreme judicial court struck down the mandatory life sentencing of juveniles; meaning that juveniles are no longer allowed to serve life sentences without parole hearings. The courts based their decision on the fact that the brains of youth are not fully matured and developed, so it would be wrong to imprison juveniles with life sentences based on these decisions and mistakes. This decision followed courts’ the 2012 ruling in Miller vs. Alabama, where judges were given greater authority to consider mitigating factors with regards to juvenile life sentences.

The courts want to give juveniles an opportunity at a second chance. They understand that as adolescent youth, one could easily make mistakes and should be given a chance to re-evaluate their case in a parole hearing. If the inmates were to be granted parole, they would be moved into a minimum-security facility and would be eligible for release in roughly two years.

Two individuals, who are currently serving these life sentences since the age of 17 for felony murder charges, Joseph Donovan and Frederick Christian respective, have finally been given a chance at receiving a parole hearing. There are currently over 2,500 individuals serving life sentences without parole across the United States, with 63 in the state of Massachusetts. Joseph Donovan and Frederick Christian, two young adults who have been serving life sentences for felony murder charges since the age of 17, have finally been given a chance at receiving a parole hearing. The decision of the Massachusetts supreme judicial court will greatly affect the landscape of the judicial process across America for years to come.



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Paralegal Student
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9 Comments on "Massachusetts Strike Down Mandatory Life Sentences for Juveniles by Jason E Lau"

  1. Maneet Salh | June 5, 2014 at 4:38 pm |

    It is absurd that this even existed at any point in time. By putting juveniles in maximum security facilities it allows them to learn from some of the best criminals in the world, therefore it is my belief that they should not be held in a maximum security facility in the first place. This program will allow the state to save money and perhaps spend it on something more resourceful like a rehabilitation plan.

  2. Lisa-Marie Hill | June 6, 2014 at 7:46 pm |

    Mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole is a ridiculous sentence to hand out to a youth. Many many people have the ability to be rehabilitated. Not everyone, for those who are about to comment on my ignorance, but most people I would say do have the ability to change, especially at a young age. Giving the option of parole to youth would motivate them to work hard in prison to become functioning members of society. It will also cut down on the amount of people serving life sentences, then more funding could be spent on programs and education within the prison system.

  3. Agatha Small | June 7, 2014 at 10:37 am |

    I believe that this is a step in a positive direction.
    It is not to say that all youth who have committed a crime which may justify a life sentence will be out one parole.
    It is not that citizens now have to be afraid that there will be 2,500 young ex criminals on the streets near their homes.
    This decision will allow them the freedom to a parole hearing, a voice and what I believe should have been their humane right to begin with.
    I look forward to hear of this change spreading throughout all the States.

  4. Lauren Wianecki | June 7, 2014 at 11:50 am |

    The decision in Massachusetts to allow juveniles to be eligible for parole when serving a life sentence is clearly a controversial topic. In considering the implications, several critical facts need to be taken into account. The first is the sheer number of juveniles serving life sentences in the United States. The second critical issue is the nature of the offence at hand. Life sentences are handed down for very serious crimes; Donovan and Christian committed a murder. They took a life. They were charged and handed a life sentence without parole. The argument that juveniles are not able to think rationally and there is considerable brain development that occurs during adolescent years does not take away from the crime committed. The penal system is designed to focus on rehabilitation. Life sentences regardless of the offenders age, are among the most serious crimes that can be committed. Criminal courts rely on case law to determine sentencing. A consistent approach is needed. By permitting juveniles to be eligible for parole while serving life sentences could in fact encourage others from committing a similar crime because they will only potentially be serving part of their sentence. The justice system focuses on sentencing that is based on the crime committed but it is also designed to act as a deterrent for others. Will this landmark case result in an increase of serious juvenile crime deserving of a life sentence? Or will it give juveniles a second chance. The question that I have, is what second chance can be given to their victim and to their victim’s family?

  5. I believe the Massachusetts juvenile correctional system is promising. It’s effect in “rehabilitation” of a once guilty mind remains to be seen. That’s why we need parole hearing on a case to case basis. It is true that our retributive justice system should do the victims justice. But accounts from correctional officers in most high security prisons revealed that it does not take more than two years for even the most violent/hostile offenders to be “civilized” under the strict confines of the prison. Sometimes early release of inmates (due to successful parole hearing) may do them more harm then good. A number of suicides were recorded when they are about to be released. The need to adjust to the outside world is just too much for them to bear. I believe the justice system mentioned in the article strikes a good balance between the victims, offenders and the society at large. It is true that, in the eyes of the victims, the justice system may be unable to make the offender pay but the offenders’ paybacks do not appear to end when they leave the prison. They have to live with it for the rest of their life. Their past will never be fully hidden from the community.

  6. Tamir Salomon | June 8, 2014 at 12:14 pm |

    This seems like a really hot topic right now, In my opinion, I think these young offenders should be eligible for parole. I can remember at that age, if I had done something wrong, or outrageous, I too would of wanted a second chance. It is important to let these juveniles learn from their mistakes and have a chance to move forward in life.
    – Tamir Salomon

  7. Stephanie Hannah | June 8, 2014 at 3:18 pm |

    I stand to back the decision made by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. I think its important to note that while this decision doesn’t allow juveniles to receive life sentences without the option for parole, it will still be decided on a case by case basis whether an individual is rehabilitated enough to enter back into society as a functioning member. It does not necessarily mean that all will be released early on parole. I think rehabilitation should be what we are striving to achieve and furthermore I believe that each individual should at least be given the opportunity to prove themselves deserving. There a multitude of factors parole boards consider when determining an individual’s eligibility for parole, and those decisions are made with society in mind and not made lightly. The capacity to change does exist in some circumstances, and it should be determined within context. Convicted persons will forever be in debt to victim’s and their families, but that shouldn’t hinder their opportunity to make change and do better.

  8. Paralegal Student | June 8, 2014 at 4:27 pm |

    It is true that the human brain does not mature until the mid 20’s, it does not mean that teenagers cannot commit crimes against another human being and be held accountable for it. The level of cruelty and intent must be taken into consideration when a teenager commits a horrible crime such as murder.A teenager Can be a serial killer as well even if they are mature. They should spend many years in jail for the terrible crimes they commit not just a slap on the wrist. The murderers life should not be more valuable than the victims no matter what the age.

  9. Vicky Sparks | June 9, 2014 at 1:06 am |

    I think that the concept of sentencing young offenders is a hard idea that illicits passionate opinions from both sides. On one hand, the idea of sentencing a violent youth offender (like the two mentioned in this article) gently in hopes of rehabilitation is an optimistic idea to which I am naturally inclined. Yet, the real threat remains what if upon release these young offenders have not been rehabilitated and in fact commit violent crimes again? Do you sentence for who the young offender is at the time the crime was committed or do you sentence in hopes of protecting their possible future victims. I personally believe in a rehabilitative justice system that can and should offer more than life in a box, especially to young offenders and believe that this is a great first step by the state of Massachusetts.

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