Short of the death penalty, life without parole is the most serious and harsh penalty that the criminal justice system can give out. Because of that, the United States Supreme Court has long recognized that it is unconstitutional to give that penalty to juveniles, no matter what their crimes. Juveniles must have some avenue for parole, no matter how remote or difficult, otherwise, their constitutional rights are violated.
Case Challenges Maryland’s System
A federal case being heard by a Maryland judge is testing Maryland’s own parole system against that standard. In a suit brought by the ACLU, a number of individuals convicted when they were minors of various crimes are arguing that Maryland’s system of parole for juveniles is a system of parole in name only—in other words, practically speaking juveniles rarely, if ever, qualify for parole.
The issue is one of practice versus the letter of the law, as prosecutors contend that the law does, in fact, provide for parole, and the fact that it is hard to attain, does not make the law unconstitutional. Put another way, prosecutors argue that so long as juveniles are “eligible” for parole, as they are, there is no violation.
The ACLU points out that no juvenile has been granted parole in over two decades, and that there are over 200 people serving life sentences that were convicted as juveniles. The ACLU argues that Maryland’s parole standards are arbitrary with no enforceable standards. The result is effectively a life without parole sentence for juveniles.
ACLU Cites Inmate Reforms
According to the ACLU, many of these individuals have demonstrated behavior to indicate that they should be provided parole. One individual is cited in the lawsuit as saying that he pled guilty to his crime specifically so he could begin to rehabilitate himself and turn his life around in hopes of being a beneficial member of society again. Others detail volunteering in programs to help the mentally ill, or making the Dean’s list in prison educational programs.
Many who committed their crimes in their teens are now in their 50s. Yet, the progress and rehabilitation have been for naught, the suit contends, given the lack of any real hope of parole.
Those critical of Maryland’s system also point out that even if a parole board were to recommend parole, that recommendation still has to be approved by the governor. Yet, there are no standards that the governor must use when making that determination. Thus, a system that allows the governor to deny parole for any reason, is akin to no parole system at all, according to those bringing the suit.
The judge is making a determination whether the ACLU’s case will be dismissed or whether it can proceed forward. Both families of the victims and of the inmates packed the courtroom, and it is not known when the judge will reach a decision.
If you are arrested or charged with a crime make sure your constitutional rights are protected from arrest to trial. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your case.