Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Massachusetts Legal Developments Blog

Massachusetts Passes Laws Changing Drug Distribution Charges

In April 2018, Governor Baker signed into law a new bill that significantly changed several aspects of criminal law in Massachusetts. These laws were largely instituted to keep individuals out of prison. One of the areas that was impacted by these changes is drug distribution in the state.

What the New Laws Include

The new laws impact how Massachusetts handles drug cases, which include the following:

  • Heroin: In accordance with these new laws, it is no longer a crime to simply be in the presence of heroin. While the consequences of committing heroin and opioid offenses have increased in severity, individuals no longer face penalties for just being in the presence of the drug.

  • Mandatory minimum: Prior to these new Massachusetts laws, certain drug distribution charges resulted in a mandatory amount of time in jail. The new Massachusetts laws, however, have removed this requirement. Instead, there is now more discretion in how to penalize individuals charged with these offenses. As a result, required prison sentences for the distribution of cocaine, methamphetamines, and PCP have been removed. Required prison sentences for second offense distribution charges of B, C, and D class drugs have also been removed. Additionally, the required prison sentences for charges related to the sale of drug paraphernalia have also been removed.

  • School Zones: Another recent change is that the penalties connected to distribution of drugs in a school zone have been significantly limited. These penalties now only apply when individuals are charged with distributing drugs in a school zone between the hours of 5:00 am to 12:00 AM, when use of a firearm or violence occurs, drugs are sold to minor, or coercion is involved in the sale of drugs.

  • Synthetic opioids: In response to the national opioid epidemic, Massachusetts has passed new laws concerning how charges related to these drugs are handled. One change is that many varieties of carfentanil and fentanyl have been reclassified from “Class B” to “Class A” drugs. Penalties associated with “Class A” offenses frequently result in more severe penalties than drugs that have Class B to D classifications. The law has also been revised to include synthetic opioids where this type of medication was previously excluded.

Understanding Drug Distribution Charges

Distribution of a controlled substance in the state of Massachusetts occurs when law enforcement has probable cause to establish that an individual participated in a transaction in which an illegal substance was given to another individual. The amount of drugs involved does not play a role in these cases, which means that an individual could end up facing a conviction for an offense involving a small amount of the controlled substance. A similar charge, possession with intent to distribute, occurs when the prosecution establishes that a person merely had the intent to trade illegal drugs.

Obtain the Services of a Skilled Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you or a loved one faces any type of drug charge in the state of Massachusetts, it is a wise idea to obtain the assistance of a skilled criminal defense attorney who will remain committed to making sure that your case resolves in the best possible manner. Contact Edward R. Molari, Attorney at Law today for assistance.

Defending Against Massachusetts Shoplifting Charges

While many people view shoplifting as a minor type of crime, the crime can result in a person facing some significant penalties, including fines, jail time, probate, and a criminal record that greatly affects career and educational goals. For this reason, people who are charged with shoplifting often find it critical to obtain the assistance of a skilled criminal defense attorney.

Laws in Massachusetts About Shoplifting

It is important to understand what shoplifting in the state of Massachusetts includes. By law, the offense is comprised of several acts including altering or changing price tags, concealing merchandise in a retail establishment, moving merchandise into different containers, and taking possession of merchandise without paying.

The exact penalties that a person faces in relationship to shoplifting depend on the value of the goods that were stolen. If a person shoplifts items that are valued at less than $100, he or she can end up facing fines of up to $250. If a person shoplifts goods up to $100 with one previous offense, the individual can end up facing a fine of up to $500. If a person shoplifts goods up to $100 with two or more previous offenses, the individual can end up facing two years of prison and a fine of up to $500. If you shoplift goods valued at $100 or over, you can end up facing two and a half years in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. In addition to these penalties, a store merchant can also sue a shoplifter for damages of up to $500.

Defenses to Shoplifting Charges

The state of Massachusetts offers pretrial diversion programs to individuals who are charged with either first time or low level offenses. The terms of diversion programs often require a person to make restitution and complete other requirements, including community service or probation. Creating a strong defense to a charge of shoplifting often requires a person to weaken the prosecution’s case by weakening the evidence being used to support the charge.

A large number of successful shoplifting defenses involve proving that a person lacked the intent to shoplift, which means that the individual forgot to pay or mistakenly took an item and immediately returned it. Prosecution will often use video footage to establish that an offense occurred, which means that it is sometimes possible to argue mistaken identity. If prosecution decides to use witness testimony, it can be argued that the witnesses being used are either biased or unreliable.

It is important to remember that a defense is stronger the sooner a person is able to initiate the defense. This is why after being charged with shoplifting, you should immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands your case and will work to have matters dismissed, your sentence reduced, or your record expunged.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one is charged with shoplifting in Massachusetts, speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Contact Edward R. Molari, Attorney at Law today to schedule an initial free consultation.

Recent Changes in Massachusetts OUI Law

 

In April of 2018, Governor Baker signed a bill into law which made several significant changes to various elements of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice System. One of the changes created by this new law regards individuals in Massachusetts who are charged with OUI (operating under the influence). The motivation to sign these various new laws was to help to reduce the number of individuals who are sent to prison. In reality, though, many of these changes will create additional obstacles in OUI cases, it is more important than ever that individuals who are charged with these offenses obtain the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Increased Penalties for Some OUI Offenses

The new Massachusetts law increases the penalties for an individual who is convicted of five or more OUI offenses. While a fifth, sixth, seventh, or eighth OUI conviction will now result in a required prison sentence of two and a half years as well as a $2,000 fine, a ninth or subsequent conviction will result in a person facing a prison sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of at least $2,000.

New Law Involving Intoxicating Fumes

Before this new law, Massachusetts law stated that OUIs could be based on allegations of an individual who was under the influence of three substances - alcohol, ingested drugs, or the vapors of glue. The new Massachusetts law, however, replaces the vapors of glue category with the fumes of any substances that has the ability to release toxic vapors. As a result, a person can face penalties if he or she operates a vehicle while intoxicated from any type of toxic vapors.

Pre-Trial Detention for Motorists Charged with OUI Third Offenses

For motorists who are charged with a third OUI conviction, new Massachusetts law explains that prosecutors are now allowed to seek pre-trial detention on the basis of a perceived danger to either an individual or the surrounding community. Previously, detention was only capable of being initiated if a person had three previous OUI convictions.

Reduced Standard for Waiver in First Offender OUI Programs

Individuals who are required to attend an OUI first offenders program will now have an easier time obtaining a waiver for the charges associated with these programs. Before this new law, a judge was only able to waive the charge for these programs if the person required to attend the program could establish significant hardship in paying this amount. The new standard in obtaining waivers is if requiring the person to pay the amount would experience substantial financial hardship.

Speak with an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

These various changes to Massachusetts law mean that it will harder to make sure that an OUI case resolves in a positive manner. As a result, if you are charged with OUI in the state of Massachusetts, it is a wise idea to immediately contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer like Edward R. Molari, Attorney at Law. Speak with our office today to schedule an initial free consultation.

 

 

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Changes to Massachusetts Law

In April 2018, Governor Baker signed a bill into law which changed a variety of regulations in the state of Massachusetts. The motivation behind these numerous changes were to decrease the number of people who are sent to prison. One of the areas that was recently revised are “Good Samaritan” laws.

What are Good Samaritan Laws?

Massachusetts “Good Samaritan” laws protects people who experience drug overdoses as well as individuals who contact emergency services to help these individuals. These “Good Samaritan” laws were created to encourage individuals to promptly obtain medical assistance when drug overdoses occur without being afraid that doing so will result in a criminal conviction. This body of law has existed for some time and many states have similar versions, but the recent reforms to this area of regulation concerned two significant changes, which include the following:

  • Parole, Pre-Trial, and Probation Conditions: In accordance with the new law, an individual is given immunity from both criminal drug possession charges as well as any violations regarding parole, pre-trial release, or probation. This means that whenever a person makes a good faith request for medical assistance, any evidence that is obtained cannot be the basis of any criminal charges. If you do receive any charges as a result of these situations, speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney.

  • Possession or Purchase of Alcohol by a Minor: This new law also grants protection of immunity to minors who are charged with possession or purchase of alcohol when there is a good faith request for medical assistance due to alcohol related incapacitation.

What are Drug Possession Charges?

It is important to understand the various laws in Massachusetts addressing drug possession to understand the significant amount of immunity that these “Good Samaritan” laws offer individuals. The exact penalties that a person faces concerning drug possession charges depend on the type of drugs that are found in his or her possession. Drugs are grouped from Classes A to F, with drugs that are classified as A resulting in the most severe penalties because these are viewed as the most dangerous type of drugs.

Being convicted of possession of a Class A substance results in a person facing two years in jail as well as additional fines. Subsequent penalties result in even more severe penalties. Possession of substances that are considered less than Class A drugs, however, often results in individuals facing less severe charges. If a person is charged with possession of a Class D substance, for example, he or she can end up facing six months in jail and fines of up to $500. By remembering “Good Samaritan” laws, though, individuals are often able to avoid these penalties altogether.

Speak with an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one is charged with a drug crime in Massachusetts, it can be overwhelming to decide how to proceed. While it is important to remember the existence of these “Good Samaritan” laws, it is also important to speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. Contact Edward R. Molari, Attorney at Law today to schedule an initial free consultation.

Massachusetts Appellate Court Decides Miranda Warnings Case

Recently, a Massachusetts state appellate court decided Commonwealth v. Cawthrona, a drug trafficking case which involved the question of whether evidence that was seized by law enforcement violated the constitutional rights of the person being charged. More specifically, this case asked the court to decide if the defendant should have received Miranda warnings before being questioned by law enforcement. In the court’s opinion, it was decided that even though the party being was not free to leave at the time the questions were asked, the party was also not in custody, which would requiring the reading of Miranda rights.

How the Case Arose

A law enforcement officer was entering a store when the officer overheard a person on the phone. The officer suspected that the person on the phone was arranging a drug transaction and as a result, the officer began to follow the defendant. Soon after, the party being followed met with another individual and the two traded unknown objects. In response, the law enforcement officer separated these two individuals. While one of the defendants received some version of the Miranda rights, the other defendant was not read the Miranda rights at all. Despite the reading of these rights, both defendants made statements that resulted in incriminating pieces of evidence being discovered in their vehicles.

The Procedural History of the Case

The defendants in this case filed a motion to suppress the incriminating evidence because it was only discovered due to unlawful activity by law enforcement. The trial court partially granted each of these suppression motions, which led to the prosecution’s appeal. The appellate court later reverse this decision and found that neither of the suppression motions should have been granted. Instead, the court found that Miranda Warnings are required as soon as a person is subject to custodial interrogation. The court concluded that the defendants had not been subject to custodial interrogation. However, the court noted that at the time of the interrogation, the defendants were not free to leave.

What are Your Miranda Rights?

The concept of Miranda rights arose in the case of Miranda v. Arizona, which held that law enforcement is required to inform an individual of certain facts after an arrest, which include:

  • The right to remain silent.

  • The knowledge that anything a person says can be used against him or her in a court of law.

  • The knowledge that a person has the right to have an attorney present during any questioning.

  • The knowledge that if a person cannot afford an attorney, legal counsel will be appointed for that person.

These rights arise if a person is in custody or deprived of his or her freedom of action in any significant way.

Contact an Experienced Massachusetts Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you or a loved one faces criminal charges in Massachusetts, it is a wise idea to speak with an experienced attorney who can make sure that your case resolves in a positive manner. Contact Edward R. Molari, Attorney at Law today to schedule an initial free consultation. Attorney Molari has helped numerous individuals navigate the complicated issues that can arise in criminal cases and knows what it takes to provide the strong legal defense strategy that you need.

Marijuana Linked to Increase in Fatal Car Accidents

A recent study suggests that marijuana use may cause fatal car accidents. The study, released by JAMA Internal Medicine, found that there were more fatalities and car accidents on April 20, a “holiday” of sorts for cannabis enthusiasts, compared to the same period of time a week beforehand and a week afterward. This study comes on the heels of a push by legislators and public policy experts to determine the effects of marijuana on driving habits, and consequently, to establish an objective standard for measuring intoxication by the drug.

To measure the effect of marijuana on car accidents, the researchers gathered data on car accidents on April 13, April 20, and April 27. April 20 is widely “celebrated” by marijuana users, and 4:20 PM on that day is traditionally regarded as a time to imbibe on the once-illicit drug. Consequently, researchers looked at the number of car accidents between 4:20 PM and midnight on April 20 and compared the results to the statistics during the same time period a week earlier and a week later.  The researchers compared the data over a 25-year period and in several different locations throughout the country. The results showed a 12 percent increase in fatal accidents between 4:20 PM and midnight on April 20. Further, the increase in car accidents was particularly notable in drivers under the age of 20.

While marijuana is generally regarded as safer than alcohol, its effects on driving are still hazy and most studies show some degree of impairment for drivers on the drug. Drivers under the influence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana responsible for the “high,” have slower reaction times, are more likely to drive at erratic speeds, and are less likely to remain in their lane. Despite this evidence, driving while high is “surprisingly common” according to the JAMA Internal Medicine Study. Many public policy experts point towards difficulty enforcing driving while impaired laws for marijuana and a general perception that driving while impaired by marijuana is safe as the reason for this problem. Because cannabis remains a Schedule II drug by the federal government, meaning the drug has “no acceptable medicinal use,” the ability to research the drug is severely limited.

Following the trend of other East Coast states, Massachusetts recently legalized marijuana for recreational purposes and is now looking for an objective measurement to issue operating while impaired tickets. The highest court in Massachusetts recently ruled that sobriety tests for alcohol can be offered as evidence of a driver’s impairment by marijuana, but the result of the test will not be dispositive by itself. Until the Commonwealth can locate an objective measurement, it will be the responsibility of juries to weigh all of the evidence and determine whether a driver was operating under the influence. For this reason alone, anyone who has been charged with a marijuana-related crime should discuss legal options with a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney experienced in these types of cases.

Massachusetts Begins Process to Reform Criminal Justice System

Massachusetts began the process of reforming its criminal justice system recently when legislators released a comprehensive criminal justice bill. The bill is a result of a compromise between a six-member conference committee that joined the separate reform bills passed in the House and Senate last year. While the bill still has to pass the House and Senate, it is widely expected to be signed into law in the next few weeks.

The new bill is comprehensive and widespread in its reach. First, the law reduces mandatory minimum sentences for some “low-level” drug offenses, including first and second offenses for possession of cocaine. In contrast, fentanyl and carfentanil, the powerful opioids responsible for many deaths across the country, traffickers will now face a mandatory minimum prison sentence of three and a half years. Individuals possessing (without the intent to distribute) these synthetic opioids will also be subject to enhanced penalties. Previously, a loophole in the state law required 10 grams of pure fentanyl to be present in order for a successful possession conviction, which was problematic because the drug labs were not equipped to run this specific test.

Individuals with low-level crimes committed before the age of 21 will be able to have their convictions expunged and all Massachusetts residents will be able to have their records expunged for crimes no longer considered illegal in the Commonwealth. This will be especially helpful for individuals with marijuana-related convictions in Massachusetts.

Several vulnerable groups also received special attention in the new bill. For children, the age of criminal responsibility will be increased from 7 to 12 and solitary confinement will no longer be allowed for children of any age, a ban that also extends to pregnant women. The new bill will require district attorneys to create pre-arraignment diversion programs for military veterans and Massachusetts residents with mental health or substance abuse issues. A provision will also allow for the compassionate release of terminally ill patients.

The comprehensive criminal justice reform bill also targets bail reform in the state. Going forward, a person accused of a crime in the state will not be imprisoned because of his or her inability to pay court fees or fines. The threshold for felony larceny will increase from a pithy $250 to $12,000. Those operating under the influence in Massachusetts will face new penalties upon receiving their sixth, seventh, eighth, or ninth OUI conviction.

In addition to the reforms in sentencing and criminal law, the bill also includes portions meant to improve prison conditions and reduce recidivism. State Sen. Will Brownsberger, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee told Boston Magazine, “The agreement we have reached today is about lifting people up instead of locking people up. It is about cutting the chains that hold people down when they are trying to get back on their feet.

The far-reaching bill has received praise from lawmakers and criminal justice reform advocates. Gov. Baker said he is “pleased” that the lawmakers came to an agreement.

Suicides Increase in Massachusetts Prisons

Suicides in prisons have reached a three-year high in 2017, right on the cusp of Massachusetts passing a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill. According to state and county data, there were 14 suicides in Massachusetts jails last year. With the suicide of New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez last year, there has been an increased scrutiny on the safety of prisoners in the state’s jails.

Jails are typically meant for individuals awaiting crime and individuals convicted of a crime with a sentence less than two and a half years. Overall, there are 13 sheriff-run jails throughout the Commonwealth that house approximately 10,000 inmates each day. According to the Boston Globe, there have been 65 suicides between 2006 and 2017 in Massachusetts jails equaling a rate of approximately 78 suicides per 100,000 inmates. This makes the suicide rate higher than the national average for jails (at 50 suicides per 100,000 inmates) and higher than the rate for Massachusetts prisons (at roughly 30 per 100,000 after a reform effort was implemented in 2007).  Nationwide, there are 13 deaths by suicide for every 100,000 people.

While the fact that jails are more dangerous than prison is relatively unsurprising, the rate of suicides at Massachusetts prisons has decreased in recent years, while the suicide rate for the state’s jails have only increased. Jail inmates are typically straight off the streets and may be struggling with untreated mental health problems or substance abuse issues. For individuals going through withdraws, the confinement of jail can be especially haunting.

Furthermore, there is a distinct lack of mental health treatment for those in Massachusetts jails. Just because of the transient nature of jail populations, it is difficult establishing and implementing a long-term care program for inmates suffering from depression or drug addiction. However, the problem is further compounded by a lack of mental health experts in the state jails. In Hampden County, there are only 10 full-time mental health experts for approximately 1,400 inmates. Bristol County has even fewer doctors on staff with only three mental health experts for roughly 1,350 daily inmates. According to state officials, there is no standardized medical or mental health care in county jails and there is no statewide protocol to screen for potentially suicidal inmates entering the jails.

Discussing suicide prevention methods at his jail, Sherriff Thomas Hodgson, who runs the Bristol County Jail and House Correction, said his facility used suicide-resistant cells, provided tear-resistant clothing to suicidal inmates, and grouped inmates at high-risk of suicide with other inmates or put them on “suicide watch.”

According to prison reform advocates, providing mental health services to inmates is the most effective way to prevent suicide. Advocates also state that mentally ill inmates are less likely to commit suicide when housed with other inmates instead of alone. This largely reflects concerns with the effect of solitary confinement on a person’s mental health. Advocates for mental health and prison reform are increasing pressure on the state government to track the suicides in county jails.

Massachusetts Case Raises Important Lesson About Search Rights

 

Recently in the robbery case of Commonwealth v. Mercado, a Massachusetts state appellate court issued an opinion concerning when a law enforcement officer is lawfully permitted to stop people against their will and search them. In its holding, the court found that a law enforcement officer who stopped a person had reasonable suspicion to perform a stop and frisk, and as a result, the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence that was obtained during this search was denied.

How the Case Arose

After being held at gunpoint, four college students provided law enforcement with a description of the three people who committed the offense. The individual who was alleged to have held the gun was an African American man in a hoodie, the second man was a Latino man in a Colorado Rockies Hat, and the third man was of either Black or Hispanic origin. Soon after receiving this report, a police officer spotted three individuals nearby who matched the description. When law enforcement approached these men, a chase on foot occurred, with the three men ultimately slipping back inside of a house. When law enforcement attempted to enter this building, a woman answered and let the law enforcement officers inside. Subsequently, the three men were arrested, but the victims of the crime identified only two of the men.

The Procedural History of the Case

The defendant in the case argued that law enforcement lacked reasonable suspicion to stop him after he left the home and then re-entered. The court, however, found that the law enforcement officer did have reasonable suspicion that the man and his friends were involved in the crime. To demonstrate that reasonable suspicion existed in the case, the court pointed out that the men were wearing the same clothing that had been described by the students who were held at gunpoint.

What to do if Stopped by Law Enforcement

If, like the individuals mentioned involved in this example above, you are stopped by law enforcement, it can help to understand how to respond:

  • Ask if you are permitted to leave. If law enforcement informs you that you are, walk away. If you are told that you are under arrest, you should ask what the basis for the arrest is.

  • In accordance with your Miranda Rights, you have the right to remain silent, which means that law enforcement cannot punish you for refusing to answer questions.  

  • Law enforcement is permitted to pat down your clothing if they suspect that you are carrying a weapon, but you always have the right and should refuse consent for law enforcement to perform any additional searches.

  • Make sure that your hands remain in a place where law enforcement can see them.

  • Remain calm, which means avoiding arguing or running from law enforcement.

Obtain the Services of a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or a loved one in Massachusetts faces any type of a charge due to a search that was conducted by law enforcement, do not hesitate to contact Edward R. Molari, Attorney at Law, to schedule an initial free case evaluation. During this time, we can discuss the details of your case as well as what your various available legal options are. Contact our firm today to make sure that your case resolves in the best possible manner.

 

 

Admissible Evidence in a Court Trial

 

Evidence in a criminal case is supposed to prove that a defendant is guilty without reasonable doubt or innocent of all charges. Sometimes evidence may have been tampered with or destroyed, wrongfully obtained, or produced from witnesses that lack honesty. In these instances, the guilt of the defendant may not be proven without reasonable doubt.

In the past, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has called for new trials involving cases of a lack of scientific reliability of field tests in drug-related offenses, mishandling of evidence by police, and the absence of credibility involving scientific evidence experts. In these situations, the admission of such evidence can be prejudicial and erroroneous. If you are facing a drug-related charge or a criminal offense, you should speak with a criminal defense attorney who will examine all the evidence to ensure you have a fair trial to prove your innocence.

Types of Evidence Used in a Court Trial

Scientific evidence is important in criminal trials. Scientific evidence uses scientific methods to establish credibility in a case. Scientific evidence goes further than the knowledge of a judge or jury. The evidence has been tested and accepted by the scientific community at large.

Scientific evidence can be paramount in drug possession charges. It must meet specific standards to be admitted in a court. The scientific or forensic evidence is considered physical evidence and is presented as an exhibit in a criminal case. Other examples of physical evidence may include:

  • Drugs, drug paraphernalia, or drug money (unlawful contraband)

  • Footprints or tracks

  • DNA from blood, hair, or other bodily samples

  • Videos and photos

Inadmissible Evidence in a Court Trial

For evidence to be admissible in court, the evidence must be relevant in proving or disproving an element in a criminal trial. If the evidence is not relevant to the case, it will be considered inadmissible. Also, the evidence must be reliable and come from a credible source or witness.

While most evidence can be used in a court trial, there is some evidence that cannot be used in a courtroom. Defendants in criminal trials have certain rights that are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Evidence that violates their rights cannot be admissible, which may include:

  • Character Evidence

  • Forged Evidence

  • Tainted Evidence

  • Self-Incrimination

  • Plea Bargains

  • Out of Court Testimony

  • Unfairly Prejudicial information

  • Misleading or Unreliable Witnesses

  • Planted Evidence

  • Suppressed Evidence

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney in Boston

Evidence in a court trial is key to proving a defendant's innocence or guilt. If you or a loved one is accused of a drug offense or criminal charge, you want the evidence to be thoroughly examined by a criminal defense attorney who can ensure that you receive your entitled rights and protection under the law. The presentation of evidence is crucial to your case and proving your innocence during a court trial.

Boston criminal defense attorney Edward Molari will provide you with legal advice that may help reduce your punishment, lessen your charge, or dismiss your case altogether. He cares about your situation and provides personalized legal services in every case. Contact attorney Edward Molari at 617-942-1532 for a free consultation.

 

 

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