Sentencing juveniles convicted of murder to life in prison without parole is unconstitutional, the highest court in Massachusetts ruled Tuesday, falling in line with the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled in two cases in which 17-year-olds were convicted of murder, including one that dates to 1981.
The court said in that case that life without parole for "juvenile homicide offenders ... is an unconstitutionally disproportionate punishment when viewed in the context of the unique characteristics of juvenile offenders."
The ruling came in the case of Gregory Diatchenko, who was convicted of first-degree murder for stabbing a man to death in Kenmore Square in Boston in 1981 when he was 17.
Because a juvenile's brain is not fully developed a judge cannot accurately determine whether a juvenile is "irretrievably depraved," the court said in the Diatchenko decision.
The SJC sent the case back to a lower court and said he was eligible for parole.
The other case involved Marquise Brown, who was convicted last year of first-degree murder for shooting to death another teen in a state park in Framingham in 2009 when he was 17. He has not yet been sentenced.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that sentencing those under 18 to life without parole violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishments."
Life without parole for a juvenile is "uniquely akin to the death penalty in that both punishments condemn the defendant to die in prison," the high court wrote in the Brown decision.
The state court also urged the state Legislature to create sentencing laws for juveniles convicted of murder.
This article was originally published on December 24, 2013.
This program aired on December 24, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.