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SJC Clarifies the “Extraordinary Circumstances” Requirement in Relation to Sentencing a Juvenile Offender

barbed-wire-1244350-224x300In Commonwealth v. Perez (Perez II), the Supreme Judicial Court “clarif[ied] the extraordinary circumstances requirement,” as set forth in Commonwealthv. Perez, 477 Mass. 677 (2017) (Perez I), which might “justify[] longer periods of incarceration prior to eligibility for parole for juveniles who did not commit murder than for those who did.”

The background was as follows. The seventeen year old defendant committed three serious crimes in one day. “[H]is uncle, … Abrante, gave the defendant a gun and encouraged him to … commit these crimes.” In the third incident, the defendant shot and grievously wounded an off-duty police detective. “For this crime spree, the defendant was convicted by a jury of armed robbery, armed assault with intent to rob, assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, and firearms offenses…. [T]he trial judge sentenced him to an aggregate sentence of thirty-two and one-half years, with parole eligibility after twenty-seven and one-half years.” In its decision on the defendant’s direct appeal, Perez Iat 688, the SJC “determined that the … defendant … received a sentence for his nonhomicide offenses that was presumptively disproportionate under art. 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights in that the time he would serve prior to parole eligibility exceeded that applicable to a juvenile convicted of murder. [The SJC] therefore remanded the matter to the Superior Court for a hearing to determine whether, in light of the factors articulated by … Millerv. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 477-478 (2012), the case presented extraordinary circumstances justifying a longer parole eligibility period.” After considering the Millerfactors, including the immaturity of juveniles, the home environment of the defendant, and the circumstances of the defendant’s crimes, the judge “concluded that extraordinary circumstances [in particular, the detective’s  catastrophic injuries] were present. [The judge] therefore denied the defendant’s motion for resentencing, leaving intact a longer period of incarceration for the defendant prior to his being eligible for parole than would be the case for a juvenile convicted of murder. The defendant [remained] eligible for parole [only] after twenty-seven and one-half years in prison, while a juvenile convicted of murder at that time would have been eligible for parole after fifteen years. See Diatchenkov. District Attorney for the Suffolk Dist., 466 Mass. 655, 673 (2013), S.C., 471 Mass. 12 (2015). The defendant appealed.” 

In its decision, the SJC “conclude[d] that the hearing judge erred in finding extraordinary circumstances in this case, particularly in regard to the juvenile’s personal and family attributes.” In the Court’s view, “[t]he crimes [the juvenile] committed meet the extraordinary circumstances requirement, but his personal and family circumstances do not.” The Court clarified the standard to be applied in such a case, “emphasiz[ing] … that both the crime and the juvenile’s circumstances must be extraordinary to justify a longer parole eligibility period. In the instant case, … the juvenile’s individual characteristics did not establish that there was no reasonable possibility of reform and redemption within the parole eligibility period provided for juvenile murderers,” fifteen years at the time of the defendant’s trial. The Court noted that the defendant is of low intelligence; that his childhood was spent in a “horrific, violent environment”; that when a beloved uncle was murdered, the defendant “lost that positive adult role model and became susceptible to Abrante’s pernicious influence”; and that the defendant suffers from PTSD and depression. In the Court’s view, these factors indicate that “the Commonwealth will not be able to demonstrate that there is no reasonable possibility of rehabilitation within the probationary period provided to juvenile murderers…. The defendant’s sentence is therefore amended to conform his parole eligibility to that available to juveniles convicted of murder.”

If you or a loved one is a juvenile involved in the criminal justice system, it is extremely important that you are represented by a lawyer who understands and appreciates the many procedural and legal differences between representing juveniles and representing adults in the criminal justice system.  Attorney Daniel Cappetta has represented many juvenile defendants and does everything in his power to make sure that they are protected to the fullest extent possible under the law. Put his expertise to work for you or your child.