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Judge blocks Md. from filing new motion on juvenile lifers

A federal judge will not allow state officials to file a new motion for summary judgment in ongoing litigation by “juvenile lifers” over Maryland’s parole system.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore in 2016, alleges the parole system does not offer a meaningful opportunity for release to individuals who were convicted for crimes they committed as juveniles and who are serving life sentences. The parole commission makes recommendations for parole, but the governor makes the final decision, which the plaintiffs contend is a system of executive clemency, not parole.

The defendants in the lawsuit, including Gov. Larry Hogan, asked for permission to file a motion for summary judgment in June and argued that a recent decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals “conclusively resolves all of the claims” in the Maryland case.

U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander rejected the request Monday, finding she could not yet say that the 4th Circuit decision, which found Virginia’s parole proceedings satisfy the Eighth and Fourteenth amendments, controlled the case. She also noted that the plaintiffs are also challenging Maryland’s system as applied to certain lifers, not just on its face.

In a series of cases over the last decade, the Supreme Court has held juvenile offenders must have the opportunity to obtain release by showing they have matured and been rehabilitated. The court prohibited life without parole sentences for juveniles and later made that decision retroactive.

The Court of Appeals ruled last year that Maryland law, parole commission regulations and a 2018 order from Hogan provide a meaningful opportunity for release for juvenile offenders sentenced to life in prison.

The 4th Circuit decision involved a challenge to the denial of parole for an individual sentenced to life in prison for a murder committed as a juvenile, according to the state’s motion. The plaintiff argued “age-related characteristics unique to juvenile offenders” must be considered in the parole decision under the Eighth Amendment.

The 4th Circuit held “juvenile-specific Eighth Amendment protections” do not extend to life with parole sentences for juvenile offenders convicted of murder and do not extend beyond sentencing proceedings, according to the motion.

“The Bowling decision defeats plaintiffs’ claims in their entirety. Given the Fourth Circuit’s dispositive opinion, this Court should grant defendants leave to file a motion for summary judgment on plaintiffs’ remaining claims, and the Court should stay discovery pending resolution of that motion,” the state argued in its motion.

The plaintiffs opposed the state’s motion and argued that “a single decision addressing a challenge to the Virginia parole system by an individual juvenile lifer” did not mandate dismissal of their lawsuit.

“Moreover, there is no justification for permitting Defendants yet again to delay proceedings in this case, when substantial discovery has been completed, the constitutional questions present mixed questions of fact and law, and the Court will be able in due course to decide the legal issues in the context of a factual record,” the plaintiffs contended.

The plaintiff in the 4th Circuit case was paroled just weeks after the decision, preventing him from further appeal of the decision, according to the response motion. The state then consented to a motion to vacate the decision, though the 4th Circuit denied the request.

The case is Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative et al. v. Governor Larry Hogan et al., 1:16-cv-01021.

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