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.



MARIO MONTEIRO, PETITIONER: “I am hopeful that a correct interpretation of the youthful offenders act will be applied and that I’ll be able to prove, together with other youthful offenders, that people are capable of change and growth, which is at the heart of this legislation.”

DEE JENSEN, MARIO’S AUNT AND ADVOCATE WHO PRESSED FOR PASSAGE OF MARIO’S LAW: “Mario had a horrible childhood living in foster homes, being mentally and physically abused, and had no record prior to his crime.  Sentencing children convicted of serious crimes to decades of prison life before their brain is fully developed is just cruel. Mario’s potential release date has come and gone while the parole board, the DOC and the Attorney General all question what the meaning of the law is when its intent has always been very clear. I am so proud of Mario’s accomplishments as an adult, and grateful for passage of this law to give children sentenced as adults a path to rehabilitation. I pray the court will once and for all acknowledge the law’s applicability to Mario and end this waste of time and taxpayers’ money.” 

SONJA DEYOE, ACLU OF RI COOPERATING ATTORNEY: “The failure of the Attorney General and RIDOC to act in accordance with the plain language of the parole statutes is unintelligible. That Mario is still incarcerated despite the fact the legislature passed a law specifically to allow him an earlier chance for parole is a travesty.  He should not be imprisoned for one more day.” 

LISA HOLLEY, ACLU OF RI COOPERATING ATTORNEY: “By refusing to apply Mario's Law as it was intended and passed into law by the General Assembly, the RI Department of Corrections and the RI Attorney General have summarily dismissed the long stated position of the U.S. Supreme Court which acknowledged the ‘brain science and psychological research that shows that young adults, whose brains are still developing, are similarly less culpable and more capable of reform than older adults, and thus ought be treated more like juveniles than adults when they commit crimes.’”

LYNETTE LABINGER, ACLU OF RI COOPERATING ATTORNEY: “For many years, the General Assembly considered legislation to give individuals who committed very serious crimes when they were juveniles a special chance to demonstrate to the Parole Board that they meet the high standards for release to the community on parole. When Mario’s Law finally passed in 2021, it meant that Mario and others like him could have that opportunity, but instead of seeking to enforce the law, the Attorney General claims that Mario’s Law essentially doesn’t apply to anyone, including Mario.”