March 5, 2019.
review by this court, 416 Mass. 433 (1993), a motion to
vacate sentence, filed on June 12, 2015, was heard by
Helene Kazanjian, J.
request for leave to appeal was allowed by Lowy, J.,
in the Supreme Judicial Court for the county of Suffolk.
Merritt Schnipper for the defendant.
Crystal L. Lyons, Assistant District Attorney, for the
Benjamin H. Keehn & Afton M. Templin, Committee for
Public Counsel Services, for Committee for Public Counsel
Services & others, amici curiae, submitted a brief.
Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher,
& Kafker, JJ.
age of seventeen, the defendant, Daniel J. LaPlante, murdered
a thirty-three year old pregnant mother, Priscilla Gustafson,
and her two young children, Abigail and William Gustafson.
The issue before us is whether the defendant's sentence
of three consecutive terms of life imprisonment, with the
possibility of parole after forty-five years, constitutes
cruel or unusual punishment in violation of art. 26 of the
Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. Because we conclude
that, on the specific facts of this case, the defendant's
sentence is within constitutional bounds, we affirm.
1. Facts. The facts we recite are drawn from the
Superior Court judge's sentencing memorandum, which the
parties have designated as their statement of agreed
"[The defendant] carefully planned [two] intrusions into
the Gustafson[s'] home; first breaking in on November 16,
1987, and stealing items. While he could have stopped there,
he decided to return. He obtained a gun and lied to his
brother's friend in order to get bullets. He practiced
loading and unloading the guns. On December 1, 1987, [the
defendant] broke into the Gustafson[s'] house for the
second time, carrying the loaded weapon. When he heard
Priscilla Gustafson and her [five year old] son William
entering the house, he said that his first thought was to
jump out the window. But he decided not to. He confronted
them with the gun, brought them to the bedroom, put William
in the closet and tied Priscilla to the bed. [The defendant]
said that after he tied Priscilla to the bed, his plan was to
leave. But once again he decided not to. Instead, he made the
decision to rape her. After raping her, he acknowledged that
he could have left. Instead, he decided he would kill her.
After he killed Priscilla, [the defendant] made the decision
to take William into the bathroom and drown him. As he was
leaving, he encountered [seven year old] Abigail. He lured
her into the bathroom and made the decision to drown her as
well. . . . After fleeing the scene, [the defendant] went
home, ate and then attended his niece's birthday party as
if nothing had happened."
Sentencing and other posttrial proceedings. In 1988,
the defendant was convicted of three counts of murder in the
first degree and sentenced to three consecutive terms of life
imprisonment without the possibility of parole. This court
affirmed the convictions after plenary review.
Commonwealth v. LaPlante, 416 Mass. 433, 444 (1993).
2012, the United States Supreme Court held that the
prohibition on "cruel and unusual punishments"
contained in the Eighth Amendment to the United States
Constitution forbids mandatory sentences of life without
parole for juvenile offenders. Miller v. Alabama, 567
U.S. 460, 465 (2012) . The following year, this court held
that Miller was retroactive to cases on collateral
review, and we determined that the protections of art. 2 6
extend beyond the Eighth Amendment protections outlined in
Miller, such that art. 26 prohibits the imposition
of life sentences without the possibility for parole --
whether such imposition is mandatory or discretionary -- on
juvenile offenders. Diatchenko v. District Attorney for
the Suffolk Dist., 466 Mass. 655, 658-659 (2013)
(Diatchenko I), £3.C., 471 Mass. 12 (2015) .
separate opinion issued the same day as Diatchenko
I, we noted that, going forward, the contours of a new
sentencing scheme for juvenile homicide offenders would be
left to the sound discretion of the Legislature.
Commonwealth v. Brown, 466 Mass. 676, 691 n.ll
(2013), S_.C., 474 Mass. 576 (2016). We emphasized, however,
that any constitutional sentencing scheme must "avoid
imposing on juvenile defendants any ...