In a landmark split ruling, Massachusetts’ highest court declared it unconstitutional for judges to sentence anyone under the age of 21 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The closely watched case is believed to make Massachusetts the first state in the country to eliminate such sentences for people considered “emerging adults.”

Prior to this ruling, the state prohibited only under the age of 18 from being sentenced to life in prison without the opportunity for parole.

“The court is courageous,” said attorney Ruth Greenberg who brought the case to the state Supreme Judicial Court. “We are the first court in the country where a punishment of life without parole is categorically prohibited for people under 21. It was a carefully considered opinion. The court followed the science and did the right thing — and other courts, I’m confident, will follow.”

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