Supreme Judicial Court, June 11, 2014

G. L. c. 127, § 133D (c), which sets forth the sentences to be imposed on a finding by the parole board of a violation of Community Parole Supervision for Life (CPSL), impermissibly delegates to the executive branch a core judicial function of imposing sentences, and therefore violates the mandate of art. 30 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.

In considering severability, the Court held “the provisions of § 133D (c)… are so entwined with the otherwise valid provisions of § 133D that the Legislature could not have intended that CPSL would survive without the parole board having any means of enforcing its conditions. Therefore, we strike § 133D in its entirety and order that CPSL sentences, whether imposed pursuant to G. L. c. 6, § 178H (a), or G. L. c. 265, § 45, be vacated.”

The Court considered whether the imposition of a CPSL sentence violates the separation of powers doctrine, articulated in art. 30 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.  The Court distinguished parole, which provides a prisoner with the opportunity to serve the balance of imprisonment outside a prison, from CPSL, which is a separate and distinct sentence that requires the defendant to presumptively live for the rest of his life under the supervision of the parole board.  It focused on the different procedures that occur when a defendant is accused of violating a condition: “with parole, the parole board has no power, after finding a violation of a parole condition, to change the term of imprisonment imposed by the judge; it may simply revoke the permit it granted to allow the defendant to serve some part of a custodial sentence outside the prison walls. With CPSL, after finding a violation of a CPSL condition, the parole board has not only the power but the mandatory obligation to increase the term of imprisonment, and thereby to order additional incarceration above and beyond the judge's original sentence.”  The Court found that § 133D (c) improperly delegates to the parole board, an agency within the executive branch, the judicial power to impose sentences.  The Court held § 133D (c) violates art. 30 and is unconstitutional.

The Court considered whether this section could be severed from § 133D and held that it could not.  It struck down § 133D in its entirety and “ordered that CPSL sentences, whether imposed pursuant to G. L. c. 6, § 178H (a), or G. L. c. 265, § 45, be vacated.”  The Court suggested that resentencing may be appropriate in some cases but that resentencing must be limited by the principles of double jeopardy.