H. 4307, 188th Gen. Court (Mass. 2014) (amending Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 27, § 4; ch. 119, § 72B; ch. 127 §§ 133A, 133C; ch. 265, § 2; ch. 279, § 24 and enacting new sections).
Massachusetts initially eliminated life without parole for juveniles through a court decision. In December 2013, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that life without parole for juveniles violates the state constitution. Under the decision, juvenile offenders convicted of first-degree murder and previously sentenced to mandatory life without parole are eligible for a parole hearing after serving 15 years.
In 2014, Massachusetts passed legislation addressing the issue. Under the law, individuals ages 14-17 convicted of first-degree murder shall be sentenced to life with parole eligibility set by the court at not less than 20 years and not more than 30 years. However, if the first-degree murder is committed by the juvenile “with extreme atrocity or cruelty” the parole eligibility date shall be fixed at 30 years. If the crime is committed with “deliberately premeditated malice aforethought,” parole eligibility shall be set at not less than 25 years and not more than 30 years. These parole eligibility rules apply only to crimes committed after the effective date of the act. The act also creates a commission “to study and determine the usefulness and practicality of creating a developmental evaluation process for all cases of first degree murder committed by a juvenile.” This evaluation process “shall determine the developmental progress and abilities of the juvenile offender at the time of sentencing and parole eligibility and the parole board shall utilize the evaluation process for future parole decisions regarding the juvenile offender.”