Two bills backed by the
Massachusetts Bar Association - one regarding drunk driving, the
other mandatory minimum sentencing - are progressing after the
Joint Judiciary Committee approved them Oct. 21.
The first, House Bill 1590, does not
change the state's drunk driving laws, but rather, consolidates two
operating-under-the-influence laws and the unwieldy number of
amendments related to them. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Eugene
O'Flaherty, D-Chelsea and co-chair of the Joint Judiciary
Committee, Sen. Gale D. Candaras, D-Wilbraham, Peter J. Koutoujian,
D-Newton, the MBA and the Boston Bar Association.
The second, Senate Bill 1651,
sponsored by Sen. Cynthia Creem, co-chair of the Joint Judiciary
Committee, and supported by the MBA, would reform mandatory minimum
sentencing for certain nonviolent drug offenders.
The bills will be considered by their respective chambers,
though no timeline has been established.
OUI law consolidation
The Massachusetts District
Attorney's Association, with the support of the state's Executive
Office of Public Safety and the Registry of Motor Vehicles, set
about redrafting the Chapter 90 drunk driving laws to organize them
more coherently for everyone from lawyers to defendants and
victims. The MBA was asked to participate.
Middlesex Assistant District
Attorney and Criminal Justice Section Council member Michael Fabbri
worked on behalf of the MBA with MDAA Staff Attorney Andrea Nardone
"What this draft does is rearrange
the hodgepodge of provisions into a logical sequence so that
hopefully, not only judges and attorneys, but parties, victims and
members of the public can look at the law and determine more easily
where to find relevant provisions," said MBA former Criminal
Justice Section Council Chair Lee J. Gartenberg, director of Inmate
Legal Services for the Middlesex County Sheriff's Dept.
"I want to stress that the MBA maintains its opposition to
mandatory sentencing, so we are not embracing those provisions," he
added. "We do, however, support the important concept of taking
what is on the books and making it more usable to the benefit of
Mandatory minimum sentencing
The bill would allow certain
nonviolent drug offenders to apply for parole after serving
two-thirds of the maximum sentence imposed. Previously, the
offenders could only be released upon completion of their entire
sentence. The bill would apply to those who are currently
incarcerated, as well as those sentenced in the future.
This measure allows authorities to
consider parole based on an individual's previous record and one's
efforts to rehabilitate. The state's Parole Board will make the
final decision on an inmate's eligibility.
"This action is in line with the
recognition of the drug problem as a health issue and not solely a
criminal justice matter," said MBA General Counsel Martin W.
Parole will allow drug offenders who
pose no threat to the public to successfully transition back to the
"This is a bill that has been a top
priority of mine for several years. I am very pleased by this
development, and I look forward to continuing to work both on
shaping a final bill and on convincing other legislators that the
time is right to make this sensible reform a reality," Creem
The reform is in keeping with the
MBA's long-standing recommendations to eliminate mandatory minimum
sentences, and is highlighted in a report released by the MBA in
June, "The Failure of the War on Drugs: Charting a New Course for
the Commonwealth." That report, written by the MBA's Drug Policy
Task Force, calls for converting criminal prosecution of nonviolent
drug offenders to treatment.
"This is a significant and positive
development in the effort to reform harsh and ineffective
sentencing practices in Massachusetts," said David W. White Jr.,
chair of the MBA's Drug Policy Task Force and a past president.
"Sen. Creem's bill is an excellent starting point. The fact that a
bill has come out of committee this fall should give us hope about
additional bills seeing legislative action soon."
In addition to reducing prison
overcrowding, the legislation would also be expected to save the
state millions of dollars each year,