Case: Diatchenko v. District Attorney for Suffolk Dist.

SJC-11453 | Massachusetts state supreme court

Filed Date: March 19, 2013

Closed Date: 2015

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Case Summary

On March 19, 2013, petitioner filed this action in Massachusetts county court, challenging the constitutionality of the sentencing scheme under which he received a mandatory life without parole sentence for a crime committed at age seventeen.  On December 24, 2013, the state's Supreme Judicial Court,  decided the case as a full court in the first instance, upon report of a single justice, The Court concluded that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. Alabama applied retroactively to ca…

On March 19, 2013, petitioner filed this action in Massachusetts county court, challenging the constitutionality of the sentencing scheme under which he received a mandatory life without parole sentence for a crime committed at age seventeen.  On December 24, 2013, the state's Supreme Judicial Court,  decided the case as a full court in the first instance, upon report of a single justice, The Court concluded that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Miller v. Alabama applied retroactively to cases on collateral review, that mandatory life without parole violated the state constitutional prohibition on "cruel or unusual punishments," and that even discretionary life without parole imposed on juvenile offenders violated the state constitution as "an unconstitutionally disproportionate punishment when viewed in the context of the unique characteristics of juvenile offenders."  It therefore declared invalid as applied to juvenile offenders the portion of the applicable sentencing statute prohibiting parole review, such that any juvenile offender in the state serving a life-without-parole sentence for first-degree murder would instead be eligible for parole after serving 15 years. 1 N.E.3d 270, ["Diatchenko I"].  The court remanded the action for entry of a declaratory judgment and further action as appropriate. 

Because petitioner had already served more than 30 years, he was immediately eligible for parole. On February 27, 2014, petitioner filed a motion for entry of judgment and for funds related to particular substantive and procedural processes that he argued were required to ensure a meaningful opportunity to obtain release as required under Diatchenko I.  Once again, the single justice reserved and reported the matter to the full Supreme Judicial Court, where it was consolidated with another matter raising similar issues. The Supreme Judicial Court considered whether, to pass constitutional muster, parole consideration for juvenile offenders required: assistance of counsel included appointed counsel for indigent persons; public funds for expert assistance; and judicial review of parole denial. 

In a decision issued on March 23, 2015, the Court concluded that juvenile offenders are entitled to a meaningful opportunity for release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation and that counsel, including appointed counsel when necessary, was required to ensure that parole release is meaningful as required under the state constitution.  It reasoned that "the challenges involved for a juvenile homicide offender serving a mandatory life sentence to advocate effectively for parole release on his or her own" might otherwise impede the opportunity for release.  Similarly, the Court held that meaningful parole review might well require use of public funds for expert evaluations, and construed the governing statute to permit such use of funds at the discretion of the presiding judge. The Court also held that denial of parole could be obtained through certiorari to the superior court, with judicial review limited to the question of whether the board had carried out its responsibility to take into account the attributes or factors of youth, maturity, and rehabilitation, under an abuse of discretion standard of review. Finally, the court confirmed that the decision applied to parole review for any juvenile offender convicted of murder.  Accordingly, the case was remanded for proceedings consistent with the decision.  27 N.E.3d 349.  

Summary Authors

Hannah Shilling (11/29/2021)

Tessa Bialek (7/12/2023)

People


Judge(s)

Botsford, Margot (Massachusetts)

Cordy, Robert J. (Massachusetts)

Attorney for Plaintiff
Attorney for Defendant
Expert/Monitor/Master/Other

Apfel, David J. (Massachusetts)

Barter, John J. (Massachusetts)

Cruz, Timothy J. (Massachusetts)

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Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

SJC–11688

SJC-11689

SJC-11453

Opinion

Diatchenko v. District Attorney for Suffolk District

Dec. 24, 2013

Dec. 24, 2013

Order/Opinion

1 N.E.3d 1

SJC–11688

SJC-11689

Opinion

Diatchenko v. District Attorney for Suffolk District

March 23, 2015

March 23, 2015

Order/Opinion

27 N.E.3d 27

Docket

Last updated Aug. 30, 2023, 1:27 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Massachusetts

Case Type(s):

Criminal Justice (Other)

Special Collection(s):

Juvenile Parole

Key Dates

Filing Date: March 19, 2013

Closing Date: 2015

Case Ongoing: No reason to think so

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

An individual convicted of murder as a teenager and sentenced to mandatory life without parole.

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

Suffolk County (Suffolk), County

Massachusetts Parole Board, State

Massachusetts Department of Correction, State

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Constitutional Clause(s):

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Special Case Type(s):

Criminal

Available Documents:

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Declaratory Judgment

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Issues

General/Misc.:

Juveniles

Parole grant/revocation