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Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Invalidates Parole Regulation Prohibiting Aggregation of Life Sentences With Consecutive Sentences

William Dinkins and Eugene Ivey are Massachusetts state prisoners serving life sentences with other sentences running consecutive to the life sentences. Under the regulation, the parole board must first grant them parole from the life sentences, then they begin serving the consecutive sentences. They will not be released from prison until granted parole from the last consecutive sentence. Ivey was granted parole from his life sentence in 2020 but remained in prison serving three concurrent four-to-five-year sentences.

The plaintiffs filed a complaint in state court seeking to invalidate the regulation. The trial court granted defendants’ summary judgment after finding the regulation to be valid. Aided by attorney Ryan M. Schiff, plaintiffs filed an application for direct judicial review by the Supreme Judicial Court.

The Court granted the application. It noted that parole, as defined in Black’s Law Dictionary and previously cited with approval by the Supreme Judicial Court, includes release from prison. Likewise, the statutory framework for parole established by the Legislature, General Laws chapter (“G. L. c.”) 127, § 130, states that parole permits, “shall be granted only if the board is of the opinion ... if the prisoner is released with appropriate conditions on community supervision, the prisoner will live and remain at liberty without violating the law and that release is not incompatible with the welfare of society.” Further, it states that a “prisoner to whom a parole permit is granted shall be allowed to go upon parole outside prison walls and enclosure upon such terms and conditions as the parole board shall prescribe.”

As the Supreme Judicial Court previously held in Commonwealth v. Cole, 10 N.E.3d 1081 (Mass. 2014), pursuant to § 130, the parole board “has the power only to permit a defendant to serve the balance of his term of imprisonment outside the prison walls ... and the power to revoke the parole permit and return the [parolee] to prison.” It has no power to grant a parole permit and require the prisoner to remain in prison, the Court explained.

G. L. c. 127, § 133 requires the parole board to establish “a single parole eligibility date” when a prisoner is serving multiple sentences. For consecutive sentences, this is done by adding together the minimum length of time required to attain parole eligibility for each component sentence. The parole board established three exceptions. Only the one set forth in § 200.08(3)(c) was challenged in this action.

The Court held that the regulation “contravenes the plain meaning of G. L. c. 127, §§ 130 and 133.” Section 130 mandates that a prisoner who has been granted a parole permit “shall be allowed to go on parole outside prison walls.” Section 133 “plainly requires that ‘a single parole eligibility date shall be established.’” The parole board currently holds one or more life sentence parole hearings that have no chance of releasing the prisoner before paroling the prisoner to remain in prison. These excess and repetitive hearings were not the intent of the Legislature, the Court ruled. Thus, the regulation is invalid.

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Related legal case

Dinkins v. Massachusetts Parole Board



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