House Adopts Comprehensive Criminal Justice Reform Legislation!

Last night, the Massachusetts House of Representatives adopted comprehensive legislation, H.4011, An Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform, on a bipartisan vote of 144 to 9. The Massachusetts Senate adopted its own criminal justice bill last month, and now leaders of both chambers will form a conference committee to negotiate differences between the two bills and deliver a final package to the Governor.

Highlights of An Act Relative to Criminal Justice Reform

  • Ending Mandatory Minimums

    • Eliminates mandatory and statutory minimum sentences for many low-level, non-violent drug offenses, including:

      • Class B subsequent offense distribution

      • Cocaine/methamphetamine first offense distribution

      • Cocaine/methamphetamine subsequent offense distribution

      • Class C subsequent offense

      • Class D subsequent offense

      • Selling drug paraphernalia

  • Expungement

    • For the first time in the history of Massachusetts, this legislation would establish a process for expunging criminal records. Courts will now be able to expunge certain juvenile and young adult (18-21) records, and records in cases of fraud or where an offense is no longer a crime. The legislation also bars third-party data companies from disseminating expunged records. 
  • Diversion

    • As part of the legislature's effort to address the opioid epidemic and provide healthcare parity, this legislation requires district attorneys to create pre-arraignment diversion programs for military personnel, veterans, and individuals with addiction or mental health issues.
    • Removes the age restriction to participate in a diversion program, as they are currently only available to defendants 22 and under.
    • Establishes restorative justice as a voluntary pre-arraignment program.
  • CORI Reform

    • Following reforms in 2010 and 2012, this legislation again updates the Commonwealth’s criminal offender record information (CORI) system to help individuals secure gainful employment and housing.

    • Shortens waiting period to seal a CORI from ten years to seven years for a felony, and from five years to three years for a misdemeanor

    • Allows a conviction for resisting arrest to be sealed.

    • Expands the ability of an applicant with a sealed record to be able to answer “no record” on housing applications.

    • Creates an appeal process for applicants who have been denied a professional license due to a sealed record of a conviction.

    • Establishes protections for businesses and landlords who shall be presumed to have no notice or ability to know about criminal records that have been sealed or expunged.

  • Felony-Larceny Threshold

    • Increases the felony-larceny threshold from $250 to $1,000. This is important because the current threshold for larceny to qualify as a felony is so low that it makes felons out of fairly minor cases of theft.

  • Solitary Confinement

    • Sets a limit on how long an inmate can be held in segregation (solitary confinement) without review and bans segregation for pregnant women and juveniles.

    • Creates a Segregation Review Board to ensure appropriate oversight of the use of segregation.

  • Compassionate Release

    • Allows compassionate early release from prison by creating a process and establishing an independent board for terminally ill inmates to petition for medical parole.

  • Bail Reform
    • Updates the Commonwealth’s bail system and enhances judicial discretion by requiring a judge to take a person’s financial resources into account when determining bail.
    • Fines and fees could be waived if they would make it impossible for an individual, their immediate family or their dependents to meet basic food, shelter and clothing needs.
  • Data Collection

    • Requires race and ethnicity data collection for all police stops, develops uniform cross-agency data collection, and data collection requirements designed to capture the particular needs of justice-involved women.

  • Fines and Fees

    • A person deemed indigent, will no longer be assessed fees for counsel.

  • Juveniles

    • Raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from seven to ten and decriminalizes a first offense misdemeanor if the punishment is a fine or imprisonment for not more than six months. 

    • Establishes a Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Commission, which will make the state eligible for additional federal funding.

    • Establishes a Childhood Trauma Task Force to study and recommend gender responsive and trauma-informed approaches to treatment of youths in the juvenile justice system. 

    • Extends Good Samaritan protections to alcohol incapacitation for individuals under 21.

In addition, we succeeded in keeping certain bad provisions out of the House bill, such as provisions that would have expanded the unjust use of invasive surveillance of residents' phone and online communications. As the law stands surveillance can only occur after a so called “locus of crime” (i.e an deep-seeded organized crime operation) has been established. I am pleased to report none of the surveillance amendments of concern (#53, #65, #105, #115 and #174) made it into the final House version of the Bill.

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