**UPDATE – On August 2nd, Governor Patrick signed the Sentencing Reform legislation**
As the Rolling Stones once sang, “You can’t always get what you want.” Years of activism, months of negotiation and a flurry of advocacy in recent days came to an end on July 31st when Governor Patrick announced he will sign into law sentencing reform legislation as imperfect as it is. His decision to sign the bill came one day after the House and Senate vetoed his amendment that would have provided for judicial discretion in the sentencing of habitual offenders (Issue Spot made the case for judicial discretion last week).
This legislation, H 4286, is an improvement over previous versions of the bill that were considered during this session. In addition to reducing some mandatory minimum sentences and increasing the quantity of drugs needed to trigger certain low-level trafficking offenses, the new law includes some good things that the BBA has supported for years (we covered the BBA’s history of this back in October 2011). For instance, the new law permits nonviolent drug offenders in prison to become eligible for parole, work release and earned “good time” sentence reductions for their participation in prison programs. It also shrinks the school zone for drug offenses from 1,000 to 300 feet.
The BBA was disappointed that the House and Senate rejected Governor Patrick’s amendment that would have provided for important judicial discretion in the sentencing of habitual offenders (despite our members’ efforts). Governor Patrick did indicate he would like to take up the judicial discretion piece again next session and we look forward to taking a leadership role in this discussion. So while we celebrate the victory of reduced mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses, it is tempered by knowing there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
Government Relations Director
Boston Bar Association