SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

January 3, 2014

Benton: Judicial picks continue to haunt Bay State

The Bay State today may well have the distinction of possessing the nation’s most soft-on-crime judiciary, thanks to appointments made over the past seven years by Gov. Deval Patrick.

Last week’s Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision granting the possibility of parole to teens convicted of even the most gruesome crimes brought to mind the antics of the notorious “Bird court” in California. There, back in the 1970s and ’80s, a high court led by appointees of Gov. Jerry Brown refused to recognize the legality of the death penalty or laws that mandated jail time for crimes involving the use of a gun. Voters eventually became so fed up that in November 1986 they took the unprecedented step of removing Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird from office.

For years now this reporter has heard police officers and prosecutors grouse about the growing tendency of judges from the district-court level on up to give criminal defendants and their attorneys an outsized benefit of doubt when it comes to sentencing decisions. One might commit the crime, but these days, here in the commonwealth, it does not necessarily mean he or she will do the time.

The topper came this past Christmas Eve, when the SJC ruled that a group of young criminals sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for the seriousness of their crimes, deserve a second bite of the apple. Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett was understandably outraged.

“We’re not talking about a kid stealing a car, or a drug ripoff,” Blodgett told reporters in the wake of the decision. “We’re talking about kids committing some of the most heinous crimes you can imagine.”

He added, “There are some crimes that are so abhorrent and so heinous a juvenile should be sentenced to life without parole. We don’t charge first-degree murder unless the facts are so heinous and horrible that it warrants a first-degree charge.”

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