Supreme Judicial Court, December 24, 2013

In Miller v. Alabama, 132 S. Ct. 2455 (2012)(Miller), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the ”imposition of mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole on individuals who were under the age of 18 when they committed the murder is contrary to the prohibition on ‘cruel and unusual punishments’ in the Eighth Amendment.” 

Retroactivity of Miller v. Alabama

In this case, the SJC decided that the new constitutional rule announced in Miller was substantive and applies retroactively to cases on collateral review.  

Constitutionality of G.L. c. 265, § 2

The SJC held that a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for juveniles, pursuant to G.L. c. 265, § 2, “violates both the Eighth Amendment prohibition on ‘cruel and unusual punishment[]’ and the analogous provision of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights set forth in art. 26.”  In addition, the discretionary imposition of this sentence does not comport with art. 26 because it is an “unconstitutionally disproportionate punishment when viewed in the context of the unique characteristics of juvenile offenders.” 

Remedy to Address Unconstitutionality

The language in the fourth sentence of G.L. c. 265, § 2, which sets forth the exception to parole eligibility, is invalid as applied to juvenile homicide offenders.  Similarly the exception in the parole eligibility statute, G.L. c. 127, § 133A, does not apply to juvenile homicide offenders.