But the Massachusetts court went further, said Blodgett. While the federal ruling required only that juvenile killers get a hearing on the issue of whether they can be rehabilitated, the SJC decision does not require such a proceeding.
Blodgett notes that prior to a change in the law that allowed teens age 14 and over to be tried as adults in murder cases, all of the convicted killers were given “transfer hearings,” where the issue of whether they were suitable candidates for rehabilitation was evaluated by a judge based on testimony from doctors and others.
Blodgett said that while he and other prosecutors do not dispute that teen brains are different from those of adults, that is already factored into decisions on whether to charge a teenager with first-degree murder.
“We’ve always understood that,” said Blodgett. “That’s why district attorneys have robust juvenile and young adult offender diversion programs, to give recognition to the fact that juveniles sometimes make mistakes.
“There are some crimes that are so abhorrent and so heinous a juvenile should be sentenced to life without parole,” said Blodgett. “We don’t charge first-degree murder unless the facts are so heinous and horrible that it warrants a first-degree charge.”
The cases he and his prosecutors will have to reopen and prepare for arguments to the Parole Board — hearings Blodgett has been told will happen “sooner rather than later” — involve crimes that were planned, and involved stalking, atrocity or the infliction of pain.
“We’re not talking about a kid stealing a car, or a drug rip-off,” said Blodgett. “We’re talking about kids committing some of the most heinous crimes you can imagine.”
Yet, even as he acknowledges that teen brains are still developing, Blodgett is concerned that there is no scientific consensus on when a brain is fully developed. Some experts believe the brain is not fully developed until the age of 25, for example, and when the drinking age was returned to 21 in the 1980s, much of the argument for that move was based on the notion that brains are developed by that age.