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The Dripby Fern Shen10:54 pmFeb 6, 20170

Judge rules Maryland “juvenile lifer” lawsuit can proceed

State sought dismissal of ACLU complaint alleging the parole system is unconstitutional

Above: A bill introduced in response to the continuing high rate of homicide in Baltimore has revived the debate over the effects of stiffer mandatory sentences.

A federal judge has denied the state’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit that alleges Maryland’s parole system is unconstitutional for juveniles with life sentences.

The ruling filed Friday by U.S. District Court Judge Ellen L. Hollander allows the lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland on behalf of the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative (MRJI) to go forward.

Their suit makes a “plausible” claim that Maryland’s parole system has deprived prisoners arrested as juveniles “of the right to a meaningful opportunity for release,” in violation of the Eighth Amendment and Article 25 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, Hollander concluded.

“Plaintiffs have sufficiently alleged that Maryland’s parole system operates as a system of executive clemency, in which opportunities for release are ‘remote,’ rather than a true parole scheme in which opportunities for release are ‘meaningful’ and ‘realistic,’” Hollander wrote, in a 49-page brief following a hearing last month.

Hollander assailed current Maryland law, under which, she said the governor “possesses unfettered discretion to deny every parole recommendation for any reason whatsoever or no reason at all.”

No Juvenile Lifer Paroled in 20 Years

The ACLU last year sued Gov. Larry Hogan and the State Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, arguing that, given Supreme Court rulings recognizing the special status of juveniles, Maryland’s parole system is unconstitutional because the prisoners do not have a meaningful opportunity to earn release.

The named plaintiffs in the case are three men who are serving life sentences for crimes committed when they were teenagers.

According to the suit, no “juvenile lifer” in Maryland has been paroled in the last two decades, a trend that began in 1995 when Governor Parris Glendening took office and said he wouldn’t give parole to anyone with a life sentence.

“Judge Hollander’s decision to allow this lawsuit to move forward on behalf of Marylanders serving life after being sentenced as juveniles is very important,” said Walter Lomax, MRJI director. “We look forward to the chance to present our full case in court, and hope to ultimately remove politics from the process, so that those sentenced as youth have a real chance at release.” 

State officials had argued that the litigation was rendered moot after changes in the system, including a requirement that the Parole Board review special factors when considering juvenile “lifers,” including age, level of maturity and susceptibility to outside influences.

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