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December 30, 2013

Teen killers could get parole under Mass. high court ruling

(Continued)

SALEM, Mass. —

It’s a ruling that goes beyond the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Miller vs. Alabama, said Blodgett, who was recently elected to serve as head of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association.

The Miller decision, like the SJC ruling, pointed to recent research showing that the brains of teenagers are still developing, and concluded that it is a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment to summarily sentence someone to life without parole under those circumstances.

But the Massachusetts court went further, said Blodgett. While the federal ruling required only that juvenile killers get a hearing on the issue of whether they can be rehabilitated, the SJC decision does not require such a proceeding.

Blodgett notes that prior to a change in the law that allowed teens age 14 and over to be tried as adults in murder cases, all of the convicted killers were given “transfer hearings,” where the issue of whether they were suitable candidates for rehabilitation was evaluated by a judge based on testimony from doctors and others.

Blodgett said that though he and other prosecutors agree that teen brains are different from those of adults, that distinction is already factored into decisions on whether to charge a teenager with first-degree murder.

“We’ve always understood that,” said Blodgett. “That’s why district attorneys have robust juvenile and young adult offender diversion programs, to give recognition to the fact that juveniles sometimes make mistakes.

“There are some crimes that are so abhorrent and so heinous a juvenile should be sentenced to life without parole,” said Blodgett. “We don’t charge first-degree murder unless the facts are so heinous and horrible that it warrants a first-degree charge.”

The cases he and his prosecutors will have to reopen and prepare for arguments to the Parole Board — hearings Blodgett has been told will happen “sooner rather than later” — involve crimes that were planned, and involved stalking, atrocity or the infliction of pain.

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