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New Year Brings New Questions About Massachusetts' "Three Strikes" Law

Massachusetts recently enacted a controversial "three strikes" law that could mean increased sentences for some.
 
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    February 01, 2013 /24-7PressRelease/ -- The ringing in of a new year usually brings with it a renewed sense of hope and a feeling of endless possibilities. Opening the calendar to "January" is seen as a way of wiping the slate clean on past mistakes. This may be true for some, but the year isn't starting out that way for everyone in Massachusetts, particularly those now subject to what some are calling a draconian "three strikes" law.

"Melissa's Law"

The Massachusetts habitual offender law began as a well-intentioned idea by the family of a teacher killed in 1999. The person convicted of her murder had a lengthy criminal history comprising nearly 30 felony convictions, but was out on parole at the time of Melissa Gosule's death. Her family - and much of the state - was shocked by the fact that someone convicted of 27 felony-level crimes could ever be out on parole.

That is when the quest began for her family to lobby for the passage of "Melissa's Law," which would prevent someone with three or more convictions for certain crimes from being paroled or released without serving the full sentence required for each separate crime.

Sound premise, poor execution?

The rationale behind the new Massachusetts law is a sound one: ensure that punishment is proportional to criminal history and take steps to keep violent criminals incarcerated so that they may be rehabilitated. The execution of that noble cause, though, is flawed not only in Massachusetts, but also in several other states with similar habitual offender legislation.

The main problem that legal experts and defense advocates have with the new Massachusetts protocol is the lack of a so-called judicial "safety valve." Such a provision would allow judges to use their discretion when considering whether a past offense counts as a "strike" for sentencing purposes. The Massachusetts legislature debated a similar measure, but it was not included in the final bill signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick in 2012.

Some legal minds have gone so far as to say that the current law, without a safety valve provision, is akin to prosecutors having the ultimate right to sentence, since how they bring charges in the first place can have a huge impact on the possible consequences a defendant faces if convicted.

Other states - among them California, which has had a documented love/hate relationship with its own three strikes law for years now - have undergone challenges to their own habitual offender legislation after seeing prison populations spike and some people facing disparately high consequences for relatively minor offenses if they have a prior criminal history.

No matter what the circumstances, a criminal conviction is a serious matter. A criminal record can jeopardize future housing, career and educational opportunities, resulting in lifelong consequences for a single youthful indiscretion. If you or a loved one is facing Massachusetts criminal charges, you need to mount an aggressive defense and take steps to protect your rights; contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to get started.

Article provided by Milligan Coughlin LLC
Visit us at www.milligancoughlin.com/



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