As of January 8, 2018, state courthouses in Massachusetts no longer permit the presence of fentanyl and carfentanil, even for use as evidence. These synthetic opioids have contributed to a nationwide health epidemic, and their extreme potency has led chief justices to take further precautions to minimize any exposure to the public, including in the courtroom. While there are some exceptions to this ban, the underlying aim is to protect attorneys, jurors, and other courtroom personnel from these dangerous substances.
Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin, while carfentanil can be up to 5,000 times more powerful than heroin, making these synthetic opioids extremely hazardous. Several incidents involving exposure to these substances in the line of duty, two of which occurred in Ohio, have led to an increase in panic and fear over potential risks resulting from exposure. The account of a patrolman who lost consciousness after brushing traces of fentanyl off his shirt without gloves and the claim made by three nurses who required naloxone to counter the effects of fentanyl they allegedly were exposed to when cleaning a patient’s room have fueled fears about the extreme potency of these drugs.
However, both of these accounts were later thought to have been panic attacks, and not necessarily caused by exposure to synthetic opioids. To be on the safe side, Massachusetts has become the first state to ban fentanyl and carfentanil as exhibits used in the courtroom. Instead, attorneys must present photographs, video, or witness testimony if they wish to introduce these opioids as exhibits in a case.
This ban has a few exceptions, however. If someone in the courtroom has a valid prescription for using medication that contains these substances, they will still be able to bring them into the courtroom. Also, if a judge deems it necessary to bring in a physical substance to protect a defendant’s rights or for the prosecution to prove their case, then such substances will be physically allowed in the courtroom.
A memo written by Trial Court Chief Justice Paula M. Carey and Administrator Jonathan S. Williams reads, “We have worked to try to find a way to balance the risks posed by the presence of fentanyl and carfentanil into the courthouse environment, the interests of the parties in the admissions of such substances and the rights of the criminal defendants.”
Know Your Rights
If you or a loved one is facing opioid or drug-related criminal charges, Thomas Whitney Attorney at Law is here to help. Contact our Amherst office today at (413) 256-6234 to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney.