The last several months have seen tremendous efforts made by both the Senate and the House to bring change to Massachusetts’ criminal justice system. Proposed amendments to existing laws include eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, repealing certain drug-related crimes (including being in the presence of heroin), and expanding the eligibility for offenders accused of drug crimes to be sent to treatment programs instead of prison.
Senate and House Both Seeking Change
In late October of 2017, the Massachusetts Senate passed a bill that aimed to reduce incarceration rates and restore more equity within the criminal justice system. Senator William N. Brownsberger, the chief author of the bill, stated, “We have to lift people up, not lock people up. We have to cut the chains that hold people down when they are trying to get back up on their feet.”
After 14 hours of heated debate, the legislation passed by a vote of 27-10. While the bill focused on a wide range of reforms, some proposed changes of note include repealing mandatory minimum prison sentences for many drug-related crimes, such as selling heroin within 300 feet of a school and making such charges retroactive so incarcerated dealers would be able to earn their release earlier. Furthermore, the bill aims to amend the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 19, making it the highest in the nation.
Then, in mid-November of 2017, after two long days of debate over more than 200 amendments, the Massachusetts House passed their version of the bill, with a vote of 144-9. Sweeping changes within the system, such as the expungement of records for juvenile offenders, the implantation of diversion programs for drug offenders, and increases punishments for dealing more dangerous drugs, such as fentanyl.
What Comes Next
Now that both bills have been passed, a committee of House-Senate negotiators will work through the differences and draft a joint version of the bill. House Speaker Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop) stated, “This landmark legislation will make our criminal justice system significantly more equitable while enhancing public safety through a series of workable, real-world solutions.” State officials in Massachusetts look forward to keeping incarceration rates low, providing drug offenders with the assistance programs they need, and keeping communities safe.
Here for You
As Massachusetts legislation changes, Criminal Defense attorney Thomas Whitney will keep you informed. If you or a loved one is facing drug-related criminal charges, contact our Amherst office at (413) 256-6234 today to speak with an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.