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Court Ignores Reality of Substance Addiction


The prevalence of substance addiction has become more well-known lately. Much has been made of the effect of opioid addiction on individuals recently, and there are always stories of those addicted to cocaine, heroin, and their many by-products. Unfortunately, it seems as if these substance addictions will always be present. In some cases, individuals unable to control their need for narcotics will commit crimes, such as stealing another’s property to finance their addiction. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney, if charged with a crime while under the influence of a narcotic, is necessary to properly defend against a prosecutor looking to make an example of another “druggie” and lock him/her up for a period of time that does not fit the crime. However, recently, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts inexplicably held that the failure of a defendant on a drug test was enough to retract her probation and impose a prison term upon her. A discussion of Massachusetts narcotics law, and the punishments for violation thereof, will follow below.

Mere Possession is Criminal

Crimes involving substances classified as narcotics in Massachusetts are classified as strict liability offenses. In other words, with very few exceptions (primarily relating to those in the medical field), it is irrelevant how an individual in possession of a narcotic came upon the narcotic or what he/she intended to do with the narcotic, as the mere possession of a narcotic is illegal under Massachusetts law. Increased penalties do exist for some actions, such as trafficking. However, as with all strict liability crimes, merely being in a vehicle where a narcotic is found could subject a passenger to a narcotics-related charge, even if the narcotic was another passenger’s.

Punishments for Drug-Related Crimes

Conviction for any drug-related offense can result in a penalty ranging from fines to prison terms. In Massachusetts, judges typically follow mandatory minimum laws, which require a certain sentence to be imposed, even if the judge thinks the punishment is too severe. Further, the length of a sentence pursuant to these laws depends primarily on the type of narcotic involved, as well as the quantity of the narcotic involved. Thus, these aspects will be carefully scrutinized by the prosecutor.

Further, as mentioned above with regard to trafficking, there are enhancements to the sentences imposed by the mandatory minimum laws. For example, if the drug was sold to a minor or distributed or possessed with the intent to distribute in a school zone or park zone, a prosecutor will most likely request the judge impose additional penalties.

Fortunately, a sentence can be, effectively, reduced. If a defendant is a first-time offender, a conviction may be replaced with probation. Probation allows a criminal defendant the opportunity to stay in his/her community, work, and be with his/her family and friends instead of being sentenced to prison or house arrest. However, like the individual in the case cited above, it is important to make sure to adhere to these conditions, or else the probation may be retracted, and a prison term imposed.

Seek Legal Advice

If you, or a loved one, suffer from substance abuse, and have been charged with a crime, speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to help you mitigate any potential penalty. The attorneys at Leontire & Associates, P.C. have the experience necessary to analyze your specific situation and will work with you to obtain the appropriate outcome. Contact our Boston office today.


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