- Adjudication and Sentencing — Massachusetts Eliminates Sentences of Life without Parole for Youth: Following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Miller v. Alabama, Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court outlawed all sentences of life without parole for crimes committed by youth under age 18. Diatchenko v. District Attorney for Suffolk District, 466 Mass. 655 (2013). The court cited concerns related to the disproportionality of the sentence when it is applied to youth, and the fact that it is impossible for a court to determine that a youth under age 18 is “irretrievably depraved.” Diatchenko also held that Miller must be applied retroactively, allowing over 60 people serving life without parole sentences for crimes committed when they were 18 to become eligible for parole after serving at least a 15-year sentence. A separate decision ruled that the Diatchenko decision also had to be applied to currently pending cases. Commonwealth v. Marquise Brown, 466 Mass. 676 (2013). Over 80 existing cases were directly impacted by the ruling.
- Youth in the Adult System — Massachusetts Raises the Age of Juvenile Court Jurisdiction: Massachusetts raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 17 to 18. The bill—passed unanimously in both houses despite concerns based on projected financial impact—amends all statutes related to youth in trouble with the law and criminal record information to reflect the new age of jurisdiction. The legislature heeded research indicating that any increased costs in the juvenile justice system due to the change would be offset by decreased costs in the criminal justice system. Also persuasive was the fact that new Prison Rape Elimination Act regulations scheduled to take effect in August 2013 would impose huge additional costs on the state unless 17-year-olds were brought into the juvenile justice system. Notably, the bill was supported by the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association. H.B. 1432/Act No. 84-2013, signed into law and effective September 18, 2013.
- Youth Involved in the Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Systems — Massachusetts Prohibits Arrest of “Children Requiring Assistance”: Massachusetts youth may no longer be arrested for running away, truancy, or stubborn behavior, and such youth may not be confined in shackles or placed in court lockup or any other facility meant for youth in the delinquency system. Instead, law enforcement may place such youth in custodial protection and must immediately notify their parents or guardians. Prior to disposition, a hearing must be held to discuss appropriate services, treatment, or placement. The law also renames Massachusetts’ “Children in Need of Services (CHINS)” system to “Families and Children Requiring Assistance” and establishes a statewide network of child and family service programs and resource centers to coordinate community-based services for screening, assessment, and referrals for behavioral health and medical services, mentoring, family and parent support, and after-school opportunities. S.B. 2410/Act No. 240-2012, signed into law August 7, 2012; effective November 5, 2012.
- Juvenile Defense and Court Process — State Expands and Improves Indigent Juvenile Defense System: The Massachusetts Youth Advocacy Department (YAD)—the state’s juvenile public defender entity—began its first full year of operation as a state agency in 2011, expanding from a project to a statewide department. YAD will provide leadership, training, support, and oversight to the juvenile indigent defense bar of Massachusetts and work to build a well-trained and supported community of juvenile defenders employing a youth development approach to zealous legal advocacy. YAD has a staff presence in every county in Massachusetts and is developing a model for trauma-informed representation, implementing a web-based case management system to promote better communication, and developing more detailed data for program evaluation. YAD’s Private Counsel Unit (PCU) provides supportive leadership—while assuring adherence to performance standards—to the private attorneys who make up the delinquency, revocation, and Youthful Offender trial panels. In 2011, the PCU developed a policy and procedure for new certification standards and created procedures to maintain and enforce them; established a revocation panel to provide statewide representation to post-disposition youth who are facing revocation of their grants of conditional liberty (the equivalent of a parole revocation hearing); provided litigation support, including support for an emergency appellate action; and created the Juvenile Certification Advisory Board to enlist the help of regional leaders across the state.
- Interrogations and Confessions — State Court Finds Interrogation of Youth to Be Overly Harsh, Miranda Rights Violated: A Massachusetts court found that an hours-long, aggressive interrogation of a sixteen-year-old girl violated her rights, and that her confession was involuntary. The court held that the girl was subject to a custodial interrogation without being properly advised of her Miranda rights, and without making a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of those rights. The court also found that the girl was not provided with an opportunity for meaningful consultation with her mother or an attorney about her rights, as required by Massachusetts’ “interested adult” rule. The court based its opinion in part on a video recording of the interrogation, which showed a “frightened, meek, emotionally compromised teenager who never understood the implications of her statements.” Commonwealth v. Nga Truong, 28 Mass. L. Rep. 223; 2011 Mass. Super. LEXIS 61. February 25, 2011, Decided.
- Juvenile Defense and Court Process — State Reduces Use of Restraints on Youth in the Courtroom: The newly amended Trial Court of the Commonwealth Court Officer Policy and Procedures Manual implements a new procedure to reduce the use of restraints on youth in Massachusetts courtrooms. The policy and procedure creates a presumption that restraints will be removed from youth while appearing in a courtroom before a justice of the juvenile court unless there is an order and specific finding that restraints are necessary. A justice may order the use of restraints if he or she finds that there is reason to believe that the youth may try to escape, or that the youth may pose a threat to his or her own safety or to the safety of other people in the courtroom, or if it is reasonably necessary to maintain order in the courtroom. The policy sets forth several factors that a justice must consider prior to issuing such a finding. Trial Court of the Commonwealth Court Officer Policy and Procedures Manual, Chapter 4, Courtroom Procedures, Section VI, Juvenile Court Sessions; effective March 1, 2010.
- Confidentiality and Expungement — Supreme Judicial Court Upholds Homeless Youth’s Expectation of Privacy: In Commonwealth v. Porter P., the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found that the warrantless search of a youth’s room at a shelter for homeless families, and the seizure of his firearm, violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Massachusetts law. The court held that the director of the shelter’s consent to the search was inadequate. The court further found that the youth’s statement to the police regarding the firearm should be suppressed as “fruit of the poisonous tree” of the illegal search and seizure. Commonwealth v. Porter P., 456 Mass. 254 (2010).
- Youth in the Adult System — Supreme Judicial Court Finds State “Extension Law” Unconstitutional: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a state law allowing the Department of Youth Services to extend commitments from age 18 to age 21—and even to have the individuals transferred to adult prisons—is unconstitutional. The three individuals who challenged the law had received extended commitments on the basis that they were “physically dangerous to the public.” The court held that the term “physically dangerous” is unconstitutionally vague and that the law violated substantive due process because it permitted extended detention based solely on dangerousness, without any link to a mental condition that might keep the individuals from controlling their behavior. Kenniston v. Department of Youth Services, 453 Mass. 179 (2009).
- Status Offenses — Supreme Judicial Court Strikes Down Criminal Provisions of Municipal Curfew for Children Under 17: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court invalidated the criminal provisions of a juvenile curfew ordinance from the City of Lowell, holding that the ordinance violated the constitutional rights of minors. The ordinance provided for both criminal and civil sanctions, including a substantial fine, arrest, adjudication as a “delinquent child,” and commitment to the custody of the Department of Youth Services (DYS). The court found that the curfew ordinance violated the fundamental right of freedom of movement and the equal protection clause because it treated people differently based on their age. The court held that minors possess “fully formed constitutional rights” and that the ordinance’s criminal sanctions were not sufficiently narrowly tailored to achieve the government’s goals. It also found that the criminal sanctions contradicted well-established goals of rehabilitating, not incarcerating, youth offenders, stating that the “criminal prosecution of a minor, with its potential for commitment to DYS, is an extraordinary and unnecessary response to what is essentially a status offense and is contrary to the State’s treatment of similar conduct.” Commonwealth v. Weston W., 455 Mass. 24 (2009).