Commonwealth v. Mattis
Sheldon Mattis was sentenced to mandatory life without parole (LWOP) for an offense committed when he was 18.
Juvenile Law Center, the Sentencing Project, and the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center filed an amicus brief in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in support of Mr. Mattis, arguing that article 26 of the Massachusetts Constitution goes beyond the federal Eighth Amendment in guaranteeing proportionate punishments, that LWOP sentences for late adolescents, youth over 18, are unconstitutional, and that the Court should extend the ruling in Diatchenko v. Dist. Att’y, 466 Mass. 655 (2013), accordingly. We emphasized that late adolescents share the same developmental characteristics as youth under 18, and that the law and societal norms no longer draw the line demarcating childhood and adulthood at age 18. Our brief further argued that other state courts have gone beyond the Eighth Amendment in limiting harsh sentences for late adolescents.
In a win for youth, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that imposing LWOP on emerging adults who were 18, 19, or 20 at the time of their offense violates the Massachusetts Constitution. In its decision, the Court relied on scientific research showing “that the brains of emerging adults are not fully developed and are more similar to those of juveniles than older adults.” The Court further discussed statutes and judicial rulings from Massachusetts and across the country, as well as from other nations, and found that “contemporary standards of decency do not support imposing life without parole sentences on emerging adults.”
Tiara Greene, Marsha Levick, Riya Saha Shah
Tiffany Faith, Marissa Lariviere