Bright v. Massachusetts

Juvenile Law Center and Center for Law, Brain and Behavior filed an amicus brief supporting Ahmad Bright’s petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court. We argued that the opportunity for parole is not an adequate substitute for an individualized sentencing hearing as required by Miller and Montgomery. Furthermore, youth who are accomplices are essentially nonhomicide offenders and, under Graham v. Florida (2010), cannot be sentenced to life without parole sentences.

The case of Ahmad Bright raises fundamental constitutional issues unresolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama (2012). At issue is the constitutional injury suffered by juveniles under the Massachusetts sentencing scheme, a scheme common throughout the country: state law does not require the court to consider the unique neurodevelopmental issues of a 16-year-old at the time of prosecution, conviction or sentencing for second degree murder. In Massachusetts, 16-year-old youth charged with homicide of any degree face mandatory transfer to an adult court and a mandatory life sentence with the opportunity to petition the parole board for review only after 15 years.

As Amici argued, the evolution in Eighth Amendment jurisprudence has been informed by neuroscience and adolescent developmental research that establishes that children who commit crimes are less culpable than adults, and demonstrates how youth have a distinctive capacity for rehabilitation. In light of this research, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that sentences that may be permissible for adult offenders are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders (Roper v. Simmons, 2005; Graham v. Florida, 2010; J.D.B. v. North Carolina, 2010; Miller v. Alabama, 2012; Montgomery v. Louisiana, 2016). In Roper, Graham, and Miller, the Supreme Court recognized that children are fundamentally different from adults and categorically less deserving of the harshest forms of punishments due to their lack of maturity, underdeveloped sense of responsibility, increased vulnerability to influence and peer pressure, and incompletely formed characters.

Unfortunately, on March 20, 2017, the United States Supreme Court denied Mr. Bright’s petition for writ of certiorari, leaving the question of the constitutionality of Massachusetts’ sentencing scheme as applied to juveniles unanswered.