Lawsuit by Md. juvenile 'lifers' allowed to move forward

A federal judge will allow to move forward a lawsuit alleging that Maryland's parole system is unconstitutional for juveniles sentenced to life in prison.

In a ruling Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Ellen L. Hollander denied the state's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which was filed last year by the ACLU of Maryland.


The ACLU alleges that in light of Supreme Court rulings, the state's parole system for juvenile "lifers" is unconstitutional because they don't have a realistic opportunity for release.

The organization sued Gov. Larry Hogan and other state officials on behalf of the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative, a prisoners' rights group, and three men who are serving life sentences.


Hollander heard arguments last month on the state's motion to dismiss.

In her ruling, Hollander wrote that the plaintiffs "have sufficiently alleged that Maryland's parole system operates as a system of executive clemency, in which opportunities for release are 'remote,' rather than a true parole scheme in which opportunities for release are 'meaningful.'"

She noted that in Maryland, the governor "possesses unfettered discretion to deny every parole recommendation for any reason whatsoever or for no reason at all."

In a statement, Walter Lomax, executive director of the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative, said the ruling was an important step in his group's case.

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"We look forward to the chance to present our full case in court, and hope to ultimately remove politics from the process, so that those sentenced as youth have a real chance at release," Lomax said.

Gerry Shields, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the state has paroled some people sentenced to life for crimes committed as juveniles, and is holding parole hearings for such inmates.

"Though we disagree with the ruling, we are confident that it will become clear that the state has acted appropriately and in the interest of justice in its approach to granting parole for juvenile offenders," he said.

Some state lawmakers have proposed banning life sentences for juveniles who are charged as adults. The state Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee gave the legislation an unfavorable report Monday. A House committee is set to start considering the same bill on Tuesday.


Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.