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Massachusetts Drug Offenses


The penalties for possessing, selling, or trafficking in narcotics are tough, and frequently involve mandatory minimum sentences (which are sentences requiring at least some incarceration at a minimum).  Drugs are broken down by their classes:

Class A most commonly is heroin.


Class B includes cocaine and crack, as well as Oxycontin, Oxycodone, LSD, Ecstasy, and Amphetamines.

Class C includes tranquilizers, valium, and hydrocodone.

Class D most commonly is marijuana. 

Class E includes most other prescription drugs possessed without such a prescription.


Trafficking offenses deal with being in possession of large quantities of drugs, and involve higher penalties.  The amounts of drugs, by weight, required for trafficking vary by drug.  The penalties for trafficking also require mandatory minimum sentences, which also vary by the class of drug and the amount seized.  For example, trafficking in between 14 and 28 grams of cocaine carries a 3 year mandatory minimum sentence, 28 to 100 grams carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years, 100 to 200 grams carries a 10 year mandatory minimum sentence, and over 200 grams carries a 15 year mandatory minimum sentence. 


Selling illegal drugs within 1000 feet of a school or within 100 feet of a park or playground carries an additional sentencing enhancement on top of the penalty for the drug offense itself, requiring an additional 2 year mandatory minimum sentence.  In addition, Massachusetts law requires that this sentence run consecutive to (or “from and after”) the sentence for the underlying drug offense.  In other words, the two periods of incarceration cannot be concurrent to one other—the defendant would have to serve the first one before beginning to serve the second.  This can in turn lead to additional complications.  If the underlying drug offense is not a mandatory minimum sentence, an inmate would typically qualify for “good-time credit,” which is a reduction in sentence for participating in programs and for good behavior.  However, if there is a consecutive sentence, this can prevent earning any good-time credit.  In addition, mandatory minimum sentences cannot be reduced by good-time credit either.  The result is that School Zone charges can lead to significant increases in the amount of time served, both in terms of additional time added onto the underlying drug sentence, as well as in voiding any potential good-time credit.


Other enhancements which can be added to a drug offense include being charged as a subsequent offender, an habitual criminal, or an armed-career criminal.  Each of these enhancements involves prior convictions which are then used to increase the penalty of a subsequent drug conviction.  Most of them involve significant additional mandatory minimum prison time.  To qualify for the Habitual Criminal statute, a defendant must have twice been convicted in the past for felonies and sentenced each time to prison for three or more years.  The Armed Career Criminal statute has three levels.  To qualify as a level one armed career criminal, the defendant must have previously been convicted of a violent crime or serious drug offense, and the defendant faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 3 years.   For level two, there must have been two violent crimes or serious drug offenses, and the mandatory minimum sentence is 10 years.  To qualify as a level three armed career criminal, there must have been three violent crimes or serious drug offenses, and the mandatory minimum sentence is 15 years. 
For example, distribution of cocaine carries a prison sentence up to 10 years, but if it is charged as a subsequent offense, a mandatory minimum sentence of 3 years is added.  If the defendant is instead charged as an habitual criminal, then the mandatory minimum sentence becomes 10 years.  Finally, if the defendant were instead charged as a level three armed career criminal, the mandatory minimum sentence jumps to 15 years (and the maximum sentence jumps to 20 years).


Under Massachusetts forfeiture laws, any money that a defendant possesses which was derived from the drug trade can be taken and kept by the Commonwealth.  Similarly, any personal or real property used to facilitate selling drugs can be seized and either kept or sold off by the Commonwealth.  Houses and cars out of which drugs have been sold are routinely seized, as are cell phones. 


A drug conviction has many other collateral consequences, including loss of license by the Registry of Motor Vehicles, even if nobody was driving a car during the commission of the offense.  The Commonwealth will also collect a DNA sample from the defendant upon a felony conviction.  Students convicted of drug offenses face the loss of Federal Financial Aid.  Non-citizens face deportation, exclusion, denial of re-entry, and denial of citizenship.

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