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SJC decisions on emerging adults, exculpatory evidence supported by MBA amici

Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently issued separate but important decisions about criminal sentencing of emerging adults and withholding exculpatory evidence, each of which supported the positions advocated for in the Massachusetts Bar Association’s amicus filings. 

On Thursday, Jan. 11, the SJC issued its decision in Commonwealth v. Mattis (and in a paired case, Commonwealth v. Robinson), holding that life imprisonment without parole was unconstitutional as applied to emerging adults aged 18-20. The MBA advocated for this outcome in an amicus brief filed with retired Massachusetts judges and the Boston Bar Association, which you can read here. Latham & Watkins LLP attorneys Kenneth J. Parsigian, Avery E. Borreliz and Erin M. Haley served as counsel for the amici curiae in Mattis, which was filed by MBA Chief Legal Counsel Martin W. Healy.

Notably, the Mattis ruling builds upon the SJC’s 2013 decision in Diatchenko v. District Attorney, which found sentences of life without parole for juveniles under 18 unconstitutional — a position the MBA also advocated for as part of a joint amici filing in Diatchenko.

On Friday, Jan. 12, the SJC issued its decision in Commonwealth v. Marrero (hyperlink to decision), which overturned a defendant’s murder conviction and ordered a new trial after DNA evidence discovered 20 years after the trial disproved a key argument made by the prosecutor during closing arguments. The SJC solicited amicus filings on the issue of whether the defendant “is entitled to a new trial on a charge of murder in the first degree on the grounds that the Commonwealth failed to disclose exculpatory evidence in its possession supporting the defendant's alibi.” 

The SJC, as well as the MBA’s amicus brief in Marrero, answered the question in the affirmative. The MBA’s brief was submitted by Healy, MBA Amicus Curiae Committee Chair Thomas J. Carey Jr. and MBA Criminal Justice Section member Donna J. Patalano. 

“These cases involved issues that directly impact the fair administration of justice, and we are pleased that the positions adopted by our association’s House of Delegates in 2023 and included in our amicus filings were ultimately supported by the SJC,” said Healy. “Thank you to Tom Carey, the MBA’s Amicus Curiae Committee, Donna Patalano, and all our amici partners for their incredible work on these efforts.”