Monday, June 17, 2013

Pending legislation to change adult prosecution age to 18 in Massachusetts

House Bill 1432 entitled “An Act to Expand to Juvenile Jurisdiction, Increase Public Safety and Protect Children From Harm,”  has recently passed the House of Representatives unanimously. It would raise the age at which a young offender will be prosecuted as an adult from 17 to 18 years old.  One of the goals of the legislation is to prevent recidivism through rehabilitation rather than punishment.  Another important part of the bill is that it keeps parents involved in the process should their child be arrested. Under current law, because 17-year-olds are treated as adults, parents need not be notified if their high-school-age child has been arrested. A high percentage of Massachusetts parents polled oppose this aspect of the current law and want the law to provide that they must be notified if their child is arrested.  Judges will have discretion to impose adult length sentences on young people who commit serious crimes. 

Governor Patrick filed similar legislation in early 2013.  The Governor's office gave the following explanation as to why the legislation is important: "On June 25, 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory criminal sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole, imposed on juveniles who were less than eighteen when they committed their crimes, were unconstitutional. Massachusetts law currently mandates life without parole for juveniles convicted of first degree murder. Accordingly, our state law must change to comply with the Miller decision."

House Bill 1432 must be passed by the Senate and signed into law by the Governor before it becomes effective.