For first time offenders in Massachusetts, those in possession of smaller amounts of illegal drugs have been getting lighter sentences. But sentences for more serious drug charges such as felony possession of large amounts of drugs, have gotten stronger.
In Massachusetts, a felony drug charge, even just drug possession, will have long term consequences that you want to avoid if possible. A Massachusetts felony drug charge will prevent you, for example, from ever getting many types of professional licenses, such as a liquor license, and you probably will never be able to obtain a license to carry a firearm.
Felony Drug Charge Conviction in Massachusetts
According to MGL c. 94C s. 34, to be convicted on felony drug charges in Massachusetts, the state prosecutor must prove that you knowingly and intentionally possessed a controlled substance. If you were also charged with distribution or trafficking, the prosecution must also prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intended to sell or distribute the drug to others.
First the state prosecutor must prove that the substance allegedly in your possession was one of the classes of controlled substances defined in MGL c. 94C s. 31. If the police officer on the scene has enough experience and training, his opinion and observations can be sufficient to prove the classification of the drug. But if this is the sole evidence of the classification of the drug, a good cross examination could discredit the police officer’s testimony. The prosecutor may admit certification of the type of drug via the state police drug lab as well.
To prove possession of the drug, the prosecution can attempt to prove actual possession, meaning the drug was actually on your physical person, or constructive possession. This means you had the ability to control the drug and had intent to exhibit control of the drug. For example, if the drug was in your trunk or under the couch where you were sitting, this could be constructive possession.
But the prosecution must prove that you knew the substance was located there. For instance, it is on the prosecution to prove that you had direct knowledge the drug was in the trunk or under the couch. But it is reasonable for a jury to conclude that you would be aware that the drug was in your pocket.
Massachusetts Felony Drug Charges Laws and Penalties
The possible penalties for felony drug charges in Massachusetts depend upon the type and quantity of the drugs involved. Also important is whether the charge is for simple possession or distribution. Below are potential penalties for possession:
- Possession of Class A substance, such as heroin or morphine: This is only a misdemeanor. Two years in jail and a $2000 fine; but a second offense is a felony and results in five years in prison and a $5000 fine.
- Possession of a Class B substance, such as cocaine, crack, LSD, oxycodone, oxycontin, ecstasy, methamphetamine. One year in jail and a $1000 fine. A second offense results in two years in jail and a $2000 fine.
- Possession of Class C substance: Two years in jail and a $2000 fine.
- Possession of more than one ounce of marijuana: 6 months in jail and $500 fine.
If you are convicted of drug trafficking in Massachusetts, below are the possible penalties:
- Trafficking 50 pounds or more of marijuana: 2.5 to 15 years in state prison or one or 2.5 years in jail. Longer prison and jail terms for trafficking 100 pounds or more and 2000 pounds or more. Minimum mandatory sentence of at least one year and is more for larger weights than 50 pounds.
- Trafficking 18 grams but less than 28 grams of cocaine: 2 to 15 years in state prison. Minimum mandatory sentence is two years. 36 grams but less than 100 grams can receive 3.5 to 20 years in prison.
- Trafficking 18 grams but less than 36 grams of heroin results in 3.5 year prison sentence with a maximum of 20 years. For 36 grams but less than 100 grams, mandatory minimum is five years. Maximum is 20 years.
Legal Defenses to Felony Drug Charges in Massachusetts
Felony drug charges in Massachusetts can be attacked by the defense in several effective ways. The most common method is to attack the evidence that you possessed the illegal drug or were aware of its existence. This is the typical defense for a simple drug possession charge.
Another effective way in a drug distribution case to fight the charge is to argue that you did not knowingly or intentionally distribute the illegal substance. Massachusetts law in GL c 94C 31 states that distribution is any method of delivery besides administering or dispensing.
Also, the state must show that you were aware of the drug transaction and were aware of it. This means that you do not necessarily have to have been present physically when the drug was distributed. Constructive transfer can be proven if there is proof there was communication between you and the person who transferred the illegal drugs. But the prosecution needs to prove that you were in communication with that person.
If the police got a search warrant for your home or vehicle and discovered the drugs, it is possible to exclude the search warrant from evidence if it can be proven there was no probable cause for the judge to issue the warrant. The judge only can issue a search warrant in the Commonwealth when a police officer writes an affidavit that gives probable cause to believe the drugs will be found in the area that is going to be searched.
It is common for a search warrant affidavit to be issued based upon information from a confidential informant. It is possible for the defense to argue the informant is unreliable or untrustworthy.
Statute of Limitations for Drug Charges in Massachusetts
The statute of limitations for drug crimes in Massachusetts is six years from the date of the offense.
Drug Charge Cases in Massachusetts
- Fentanyl Bust Leads to Two Arrests -- Two suspected drug dealers in Peabody MA will be arraigned this week of charges of trafficking fentanyl. The arrests of the two men came after an investigation spanning several months. The arresting officers stated that almost two ounces of fentanyl and $2000 in cash was seized.
- MA Man Arrested with 44 Pounds of Marijuana -- Boston police last week seized 44 pounds of marijuana, two guns and more than $26,000 in cash after a 30 day investigation into the activities of an alleged Mattapan drug dealer.
- Five Western MA Men Arrested for Suspected Drug Trafficking -- Five men in Springfield MA were arrested this month in connection with a suspected Mexican drug trafficking ring that brought many kilos of cocaine into the state, as well as heroin and pure fentanyl.