Commonwealth v. Sharma
Sunil Sharma was 16 years old when he was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole for second degree murder, and to a consecutive sentence of seven to ten years for additional charges. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court mandated that youth convicted of first degree murder, including those sentenced to consecutive non-life sentences, be granted resentencing hearings that address the mitigating factors of youth, but these protections have not been extended to youth convicted of second degree murder. In some cases, like Mr. Sharma’s, youth in the second degree cohort are now serving sentences more severe than those in the first degree cohort.
Juvenile Law Center joined the Committee for Public Counsel Services and Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in filing an amicus brief in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on behalf of Mr. Sharma. Amici argued that the failure to grant Miller hearings to youth convicted of second degree murder violates both due process and equal protection, due to the resulting disproportionate sentencing between the first degree cohort and the second degree cohort. The brief further emphasized that longer incarceration serves no rehabilitative purpose for these youth.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that Mr. Sharma’s sentence is not presumptively disproportionate simply because it exceeds the punishment for a youth convicted of first degree murder. However, the Court held that, when ruling on Mr. Sharma’s motion for post-conviction relief, the trial court judge failed to consider the mitigating circumstances of his youth or his demonstrated rehabilitation. Additionally, the Court found that Mr. Sharma should immediately receive a parole hearing, pursuant to the Court’s recent decision in Dinkins v. Massachusetts Parole Board regarding parole eligibility dates for individuals with sentences consecutive to a life sentence.