Ju­ve­nile life rul­ing af­fects some with pa­role op­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY JULIET LINDERMAN

BAL­TI­MORE | A Supreme Court de­ci­sion trig­ger­ing new sen­tences for in­mates serv­ing manda­tory life with­out pa­role for crimes com­mit­ted as ju­ve­niles has had a far greater ef­fect: The rul­ing is prompt­ing lawyers to ap­ply its fun­da­men­tal logic — that it’s cruel and un­usual to lock teens up for life — to a larger pop­u­la­tion, those whose sen­tences in­clude a pa­role pro­vi­sion but who stand lit­tle chance of get­ting out.

The court in Jan­uary 2016 ex­panded its ban on manda­tory life with­out pa­role for ju­ve­niles to more than 2,000 of­fend­ers al­ready serv­ing such sen­tences, say­ing teens should be treated dif­fer­ently than adult of­fend­ers be­cause they’re less ma­ture, prone to ma­nip­u­la­tion and ca­pa­ble of change.

The court found that all but the rare ju­ve­nile lifer whose crime re­flects “per­ma­nent in­cor­ri­gi­bil­ity” should have a chance to ar­gue for free­dom one day, and dozens serv­ing manda­tory terms have since been re­sen­tenced and re­leased.

But legal chal­lenges also are be­ing ar­gued on be­half of of­fend­ers sen­tenced to life with pa­role for crimes com­mit­ted as teens — a pop­u­la­tion to­tal­ing some 7,300 in­mates na­tion­wide, ac­cord­ing to Ash­ley Nel­lis at ad­vo­cacy group The Sen­tenc­ing Project.

“Even states that do have pa­role, it doesn’t give a lot of rea­son for hope,” Ms. Nel­lis said. “The Supreme Court was very clear to say that age-re­lated fac­tors need to be con­sid­ered at re­sen­tenc­ing or pa­role re­view, but the feed­back we’re see­ing is that those fac­tors aren’t be­ing con­sid­ered.”

Mary­land, Ok­la­homa and Cal­i­for­nia are the only three states that re­quire the gov­er­nor to sign off on pa­role rec­om­men­da­tions for lif­ers.

Last year the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union sued Mary­land, ar­gu­ing that a life-with-pa­role sen­tence doesn’t af­ford pris­on­ers a mean­ing­ful shot at re­lease be­cause gover­nors for two decades haven’t ap­proved any pe­ti­tions.

Even Par­ris Glen­den­ing, the for­mer Mary­land gov­er­nor who set the stan­dard when he de­clared in 1995 that “life means life,” says the sys­tem he de­signed is dys­func­tional.

“What hap­pens with lif­ers now, I had some re­spon­si­bil­ity. And I say that not with pride, but with re­gret,” Mr. Glen­den­ing told the AP. “What we’re find­ing now is peo­ple who are ju­ve­niles … they are now ag­ing in prison, are prob­a­bly a threat to no one at this stage. It’s a ques­tion of hu­mane treat­ment: Is it hu­mane or cruel and un­usual to have some­one sit­ting in jail at 50, 60, 70 for an offense com­mit­ted half a cen­tury ago?”

Mary­land’s pa­role com­mis­sion in Oc­to­ber be­gan re­view­ing all 271 lif­ers who com­mit­ted crimes as ju­ve­niles, ac­cord­ing to com­mis­sion Chair­man David Blum­berg.

As of May, the com­mis­sion had re­viewed 76 cases: 45 have been sched­uled for ad­di­tional hear­ings, 20 were re­ferred for psy­cho­log­i­cal risk as­sess­ments, and nine were re­fused pa­role. Two asked for post­pone­ments. None have been re­leased.

Gov. Larry Ho­gan said he and his team take the process se­ri­ously.

“They meet with the in­mate. … They talk with the vic­tim’s fam­i­lies and wit­nesses and spend months and months,” Mr. Ho­gan said. “And in a few cases I was con­vinced that peo­ple had served their debt to so­ci­ety and de­served a sec­ond chance, and sev­eral of them were peo­ple that were con­victed at a very young age and had served long, long sen­tences and had been model pris­on­ers and re­ally re­ha­bil­i­tated them­selves.”

But he hasn’t ap­proved any pa­role bids for ju­ve­nile lif­ers. The com­mis­sion, on av­er­age, has rec­om­mended fewer than two pris­on­ers serv­ing life sen­tences for pa­role per year since 1995, ac­cord­ing to pub­lic de­fender James John­ston, who says the state’s sys­tem con­tra­venes the essence of the Supreme Court rul­ings.

Mr. John­ston is at the fore­front of a bat­tle over whether even Mary­land’s ju­ve­nile life-with­out-pa­role sen­tences fall un­der the high court’s man­date for re­view. Prose­cu­tors say no, be­cause the sen­tences aren’t manda­tory.

In June, Mr. John­ston ar­gued be­fore a Mary­land judge that Lee Malvo, one of the D.C. snipers who ter­ror­ized the Wash­ing­ton area for a month in 2002, de­served a new sen­tence. He was 17 and pleaded guilty to mur­der charges in Vir­ginia and Mary­land. He re­ceived life with­out pa­role in both states, but a Vir­ginia judge re­cently ruled the term un­con­sti­tu­tional and or­dered Malvo re­sen­tenced.

In Mary­land, prose­cu­tors say the judge made an in­formed de­ci­sion. A rul­ing is pend­ing.


Robert Boyd holds high school and col­lege diplo­mas he earned while in­car­cer­ated, at his home in Bal­ti­more. After 34 years be­hind bars, even Brian Mur­phy, the pros­e­cu­tor who tried the case in 1982, of­fered to tes­tify on his be­half.

Robert Boyd was sen­tenced to life at 16 for his role in a home in­va­sion that turned deadly. Boyd was the look­out, stand­ing watch on the porch.

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