BOSTON — As the family of a 15-year-old girl murdered by her 16-year-old boyfriend looked on, a group of Massachusetts lawmakers proposed legislation yesterday that would require juveniles convicted of first-degree murder to serve a minimum of 35 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole.
The bill comes in response to recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that sentencing juveniles to life without parole is unconstitutional.
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, and Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, said the bill is aimed at giving some sense of justice to the families of murder victims who thought the people who killed their loved ones would stay in prison for the rest of their lives. As a result of the SJC decision, juveniles convicted of murder could be eligible for parole in as little as 15 years.
“The Supreme Court said that it is cruel and unusual punishment that a juvenile would have to spend their life behind bars without parole, but it is also cruel and unusual punishment that after only 15 years and every 5 years thereafter, a victim’s family would have to relive such a horrible tragedy,” Finegold said.
Currently, first-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole, even for juveniles.
“While it’s not an ideal situation, we hope it will bring some measure of comfort to the victims’ families that they won’t have to go before the Parole Board for 35 years,” Finegold said.
Tarr said the bill — which mirrors a proposal made by state prosecutors — seeks to ensure the new penalty would be deemed constitutional under the recent court rulings while making sure juveniles who commit murder receive appropriate sentences. He said that in addition to the 35-year minimum, the bill would also require the state Parole Board, in order to grant parole, to find that the juvenile did not have the mental state of an adult when the crime was committed.