It is a question being asked by many defense lawyers, who have said they cannot advise juveniles without knowing the potential punishment.
“I think that is a quandary for the states,” Levick said. “You have to know what sentence you are exposed to when you enter into plea negotiations.”
Kevin Keo of Lynn, serving life without parole for a murder committed when he was 16, is appealing his conviction to the Supreme Judicial Court based partly on the high court decision that the punishment is unconstitutional.
Leone wants Marquise Brown to serve life without parole for the 2009 slaying of Tyriffe Lewis in Framingham. Brown, then 17, was convicted in August, but sentencing has been delayed as prosecutors seek clarification of the high court’s ruling in Brown’s case.
So far, Leone is the only state prosecutor to publicly advocate for a particular position on juvenile killers, arguing that they should serve decades in prison before parole eligibility. Other prosecutors “have not come to a consensus” on what to do, said a spokesman for Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr., president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association.
But Massachusetts officials are carefully eyeing other developments in other states for clues on how to move ahead. In July, Governor Terry F. Branstad of Iowa commuted 38 juvenile life sentences, requiring inmates to serve a minimum of 60 years after their original sentencing before applying for parole.
An Iowa judge later rebuked him for ignoring the Supreme Court by not providing offenders any meaningful opportunity to obtain release.
“A blanket sentence for 38 juvenile offenders that provides no eligibility for parole for 60 years is not the sort of individualized sentencing envisioned under Miller v. Alabama,” Iowa District Court Judge Timothy O’Grady wrote.
North Carolina and California have passed laws since June applying the decision retroactively, allowing hundreds of juvenile killers a chance at parole once they have served 25 years in prison, a sentence that Garinger opposes.
“Any state that imposed a substantially longer sentence, one over 15 years without a chance for parole for individuals under 18 – it would not be something I would support,” Garinger said.
Garinger wants Massachusetts to go further than the nation’s high court, banning juvenile life without parole completely, and she is briefing Patrick on reform discussions.
“The governor is very well informed on this issue and very concerned about it,” Garinger said.
Josh Dohan, director of the state public defender’s Youth Advocacy Division, said dozens of lawyers are being trained to represent the individuals potentially affected by the high court’s ruling, at least 80 of them, most of whom are indigent.
It is likely that any proposals that require teenage killers to spend decades in prison before they have a chance at freedom will be challenged in the courts. The Supreme Court decision said juveniles deserve a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release,” based on demonstrated maturity and possible rehabilitation.
“Huge sentences that span the majority of a normal youth’s life expectancy are in fact life sentences,” Dohan said.
Some parents of murder victims agree.
Sonia Booker, 79, whose son Jeffrey was killed by a 16-year-old in 1988, said teenagers who kill should not be punished forever. “Don’t take their whole lifetime away,” she said. “Vengeance is not mine.”
Milton Jones, whose son Elijah Pace was killed by two youths, said juveniles deserve a chance at redemption. “Prison has its purpose, but it can wear out if it is too long,” Jones said.
Juvenile killers in other states are challenging their punishment. A New Hampshire judge has given Stephen Spader, the convicted killer of a Mont Vernon woman in 2009, until January to file an expert witness report in his request for resentencing. Robert Tulloch, 17 when he helped kill two Dartmouth College professors in 2001, has also requested resentencing.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is the first state high court to test the applicability of retroactivity, hearing oral arguments this summer on how to handle the roughly 470 juvenile murderers serving mandatory life sentences without parole. Pennsylvania has also passed legislation granting future convicted juvenile killers the chance for release after serving between 20 and 35 years, depending on the age of the killer at the time of the crime.
At least two state appellate decisions in Florida, which has a mandatory sentence, have ruled the high court’s ruling is not retroactive. In another case, lawyers for a 12-year-old boy charged as an adult last year argue that he cannot be tried in the slaying of his 2-year-old brother without clarity on his eventual punishment. Courtroom or legislative activity on the issue is also unfolding in Wyoming, Nebraska, and Michigan.Continued...