Amicus Curiae Briefs Challenge Attorney General Position


From The Rhode Island Chapter of the ACLU:

Joining ACLU of Rhode Island cooperating attorneys in a critical case involving the rights of young people, national juvenile justice groups have filed “friend of the court” briefs today in the R.I. Supreme Court, contesting the state’s position that an important criminal justice reform enacted by the General Assembly in 2021, designed to give young offenders serving lengthy sentences a chance for earlier release on parole, is unconstitutional and doesn’t even apply to the person whose rehabilitation inspired the law’s introduction and passage.

The statute, often referred to as “Mario’s Law,” provides that “any person sentenced for any offense prior to his or her twenty-second birthday” is eligible for parole after serving twenty years.


The law was passed in recognition of the fact that, as the U.S. Supreme Court has noted, “even when they commit terrible crimes,” juveniles lack the culpability of adults due to their immaturity and underdeveloped sense of responsibility and should therefore be given a second chance. “Mario” refers to Mario Monteiro, one of four individuals in this appeal who have spent all or virtually all of their adult lives in prison for crimes committed when they were minors or young adults. A Superior Court judge ruled last year they were entitled to be considered for earlier parole under that law, and the state’s appeal of those rulings forms the basis for the filing of the briefs. While Monteiro remains incarcerated, the three other individuals in the case – Joao Neves, Keith Nunes, and Pablo Ortega – were released by the Parole Board after the Superior Court ruling.

Despite the clear language of the statute, the Department of Corrections, the Attorney General and, by acquiescence, the Parole Board have all taken the position that the statute does not apply to people like Monteiro who are serving more than one sentence. The Attorney General is further arguing that the statute violates “separation of powers” principles and should be struck down.

The “friend of the court” briefs supporting the ACLU’s position were filed by the following groups:

The Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, a national nonprofit working to abolish extreme sentences for children, and Human Rights for Kids, a nonprofit protecting children’s human rights. Their joint brief examines recent U.S. Supreme Court cases that highlight the scientific evidence that there are “structural differences” in the brains of youth as compared to older adults and the reasons the law appropriately seeks to treat them differently.

* The Juvenile Law Center, the first non-profit public interest law firm in the country for children; The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit working for humane responses to crime that minimize imprisonment; The Gault Center, which seeks to ensure all young people enjoy full constitutional protections; the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, a nonprofit voluntary professional bar association that works on behalf of criminal defense attorneys to ensure justice and due process for those accused of crime; and Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts research and engages in advocacy regarding the harms caused by mass incarceration. Among other points, their joint brief argues that the State’s position that the law doesn’t apply to juveniles serving more than one sentence for the same act encourages prosecutorial use of “charge stacking” to increase sentence length, which is especially harmful for youthful offenders.

* The Center for Law, Brain and Behavior, housed at Massachusetts General Hospital, which brings expertise in neuroscience to support both the well-being of younger persons and the safety of their communities.

* Also filing briefs locally were the Prisoners’ Rights Clinic at Roger Williams University School of Law, whose brief contends that the Parole Board is free to determine where sentences will be served — in prison or in the community — without violating any principles of separation of powers; and the Office of the Public Defender.

Although the R.I. Supreme Court invited interested parties to file “friend of the court” briefs in light of the case’s importance, the Attorney General has refused to grant consent to any of these organizations to file briefs, requiring them to get formal approval from the Court to file them.

The main brief filed by the ACLU cooperating attorneys – Lynette Labinger, Lisa Holley, and Sonja Deyoe – representing Monteiro and the three other individuals, notes that if the state’s “separation of powers” argument were to prevail, important state laws authorizing medical parole and geriatric parole for very ill prisoners would similarly be invalid.

Oral argument in the case is scheduled for April 2nd.

ACLU of RI cooperating attorney Deyoe said today: “Each of our clients have been deemed by the parole board to be worthy of release to the community.  The only benefit to society of continuing to imprison them is punishment for crimes they committed when they were youth when their brains were not fully developed.  They should not be treated the same as those who commit the same crime when they are older adults.”







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