A decision by the state Supreme Judicial Court will impact over 200 defendants sentenced between the ages of 18 and 20.
By Jean Trounstine
Since the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) announced its landmark ruling on Jan. 11, many with a sentence of life without parole (LWOP) have been given “new hope,” said Shawn Fisher, a prisoner at Old Colony Correctional Center. Protections against mandatory LWOP, which was declared unconstitutional for juveniles in 2013, will now be extended to emerging adults, meaning those who were 18 to 20 years of age at the time of the crime.
The watershed ruling, Commonwealth v. Mattis, a 4-3 decision, is based on the case of Sheldon Mattis. In 2011, as an 18-year-old, Mattis gave a gun to Nyasani Watt, and was later found guilty of encouraging Watt to shoot two boys who were allegedly members of a rival gang. One was killed, another wounded. Watt and Mattis were each convicted of murder, but the former, a juvenile, was deemed eligible for parole after 15 years. Mattis, now considered an emerging adult, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
According to Voukydis of CPCS, as well as Garin and Ryan Schiff, the attorney who argued Mattis in front of the SJC, the parole process is hardly quick or easy. All recent changes considered, training attorneys in the special needs of emerging adults will be crucial.
Part of the training will involve Ryan Schiff explaining how to apply the science behind the SJC ruling at parole hearings.