Earlier this month, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Trial Court Paula Carey wrote a letter to state prosecutors proposing a ban on opioids brought into courtrooms as evidence. She fears that even adequately packaged samples pose a risk to those present in the room due to the extreme potency of some drugs, such as fentanyl. Let’s take a closer look at the legal ramifications of the proposed change.
As the United States attempts to get a handle on the national opioid crisis, law enforcement officials and first responders are reporting cases of accidental exposure and overdoses. Due to this phenomenon, some lawmakers fear that the same could happen to those working in courtrooms, such as judges, bailiffs, juries, attorneys, and prosecutors.
The Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab has recommended that sealed evidentiary samples should be handled with nitrile gloves to prevent possible exposure. Furthermore, it suggests keeping overdose antidote naloxone medications on-hand if an accident occurs.
Despite these concerns, medical professionals doubt the validity of accidental exposure accounts. They contend that these drugs are not easily absorbed through the skin and that increased worries indicate paranoia. Brigham and Women’s Hospital medical toxicologist Dr. Edward Boyer recently stated, “If something got out and fell into a pile on the tabletop, I’d walk over and sweep it into a garbage can with my hand. I wouldn’t waste time finding a hazmat suit.”
Another medical toxicologist, Dr. Andrew Stolbach, agreed, saying, “Concern, or even hysteria, might be natural when people are faced with something new.”
Potential Policy Changes
If the state bans opioid samples in courtrooms, only photographs or videos of the substances would be permitted to enter the premises. Chief counsel of the state’s public defenders agency Anthony Benedetti stated that the organization is “examining how to balance what appears to be a safety issue with the critical ability for defendants to ensure that, at their trial or at their plea, that the evidence is in fact what the government claims it is.”
Staying Ahead of Legislation
Criminal Defense lawyer Thomas Whitney will keep you updated on changes in Massachusetts criminal policies as they come to pass. If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, contact our Amherst office at (413) 256-6234 today to speak with an experienced and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.