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Mass. bans life without parole for adults under 21 in a landmark decision

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The Daily Free Press, January 2024

Advancements in scientific research have confirmed that the brains of emerging adults are not yet fully matured, Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd explained in the decision Commonwealth v. Sheldon Mattis. Before the court ruling on Jan. 11, Mass. was one of only ten states to sentence emerging adults aged 18 through 20 convicted of first-degree murder to life without parole, and is now the first state to ban it. 

“The scientific record strongly supports the contention that emerging adults have the same core neurological characteristics as juveniles,” Budd wrote in the court’s decision.

Those who were sentenced before the ruling will have the opportunity to be released from prison, a move that officials say they have been gearing up for in the months ahead of the decision. But the decision does not mandate release, it only opens up the option. 

According to the ruling, those previously sentenced must be granted a “meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation” before the state parole board, who will “evaluate the circumstances surrounding the commission of the crime, including the age of the offender, together with all relevant information pertaining to the offender’s character and actions during the intervening years since conviction.”

Read more at The Daily Free Press.

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