Calling it a “miscarriage of justice,” ACLU of Rhode Island cooperating attorneys have today filed a petition in R.I. Superior Court to challenge the state’s “absurd” 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 early release on parole, doesn’t apply to the person the law was overtly aimed to help. 


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. “Mario” refers to Mario Monteiro, the petitioner in this case who is 39 years old and has been incarcerated his entire adult life after being sentenced to two life sentences for a murder he committed when he was 17 years old. 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. 


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. Instead, they claim that, despite already having served more than 20 years at the ACI, he must serve at least an additional fifteen years on his second life sentence before he can be considered for parole. The ACLU petition notes that this position would “effectively operate to nullify” the statute’s terms “and defeat its purposes” since most people serving a life sentence were already eligible for parole after 20 years without the passage of Mario’s Law. 


Last year, ACLU action led to the release of three other people under Mario’s Law, whom the state had similarly argued were not eligible for parole. The Superior Court rejected those arguments and ordered their release. The R.I. Supreme Court has since agreed to review those decisions but refused to halt their release from prison.  


Today’s petition for post-conviction relief, filed by ACLU of Rhode Island cooperating attorneys Lisa Holley, Sonja Deyoe and Lynette Labinger, seeks a court order finding that Monteiro “has been unlawfully detained beyond the terms of his sentence, in violation of the laws of the State of Rhode Island governing parole and the United States and Rhode Island Constitutions.” The petition also asks the court to reject the state’s “arbitrary and capricious” interpretation of Mario’s Law, and to grant his immediate release to the community or return for consideration by the Parole Board “forthwith” to determine the conditions that would authorize his immediate release. 


Quotes from the parties and attorneys in the case follow below. A copy of the petition can be found here.