For Immediate Release - August 30, 2017

Baker-Polito Administration Unveils Bill to Strengthen Penalties for Dangerous Drug Distribution, Witness Intimidation

BOSTON – Joined today by survivors, advocates, members of the law enforcement community and members of the Legislature at the Gavin Foundation’s Devine Recovery Center in South Boston, Governor Charlie Baker, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and Secretary of Public Safety and Security Daniel Bennett announced a public safety legislative reform package updating drug scheduling and witness intimidation statutes and strengthening penalties for the illegal distribution of drugs resulting in death and solicitation to commit murder.

The four provisions of the Baker-Polito Administration’s legislative package address:

  • Linking state drug classifications, with the exception of marijuana and other drugs already classified in Massachusetts, to emergency federal drug scheduling, allowing state law enforcement and prosecutors to more swiftly respond to the influx of new and dangerous synthetic drugs.
  • Defining the illegal distribution of dangerous drugs resulting in death as manslaughter punishable by a minimum of five years in prison -- the same standard to which a driver under the influence who takes an innocent life is held.
  • Bolstering and clarifying witness intimidation statutes to ensure prosecutors have the ability to protect witnesses and their families from retaliation both before and after a trial.
  • Updating state law to treat solicitation of murder-for-hire as a felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

“As society keeps seeing evolving public safety threats, like dangerous drugs fueling the opioid epidemic and gang violence in our communities, it is critical that our laws give law enforcement the appropriate tools and enforcement measures to keep everyone safe,” said Governor Baker.  “The Commonwealth is focused on curbing the deadly opioid and heroin epidemic, and these reforms will gives prosecutors and public safety officers the ability to better respond to new drugs coming into our communities, and to hold accountable drug dealers who put profits over the lives of other people.”

“Every day in cities and towns across Massachusetts, brave and extraordinary men, women and children step up to help prosecutors and law enforcement identify, convict and put away drug dealers, murderers and other criminals,” said Lt. Governor Polito. “One of the commitments law enforcement makes is to do everything they can to protect them and their families, and this bill will make clear the Commonwealth will not tolerate attempts to harm or intimidate witnesses or their families before, during or after a trial.”

Governor Baker, Lt. Governor Polito and Secretary Bennett were joined by advocates from the recovery, victim and survivor community in announcing the bill, including the President and CEO of the Gavin Foundation, John McGahan; Learn to Cope; the Massachusetts Organization for Addiction Recovery (MOAR); Mothers for Justice and Equality Founder, President and CEO Monalisa Smith; and Aretha Mauge, who lost a loved one to a stabbing where no witnesses came forward; and Laura Martin, who lost a loved one to a drug overdose.

Members of the law enforcement community attending included: Massachusetts Major City Chiefs President and Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes; John Nelson of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police; and Donald Caisey representing the Boston Detectives Union and the Fraternal Order of Police

“Under our current system, when a dangerous new drug appears on the scene, the federal government moves quickly to employ its emergency scheduling powers to make sure that federal law prohibits the importation and sale of these lethal drugs,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Security Dan Bennett. “If state laws lag behind it makes sense to adopt federal scheduling, as other states have, to ensure police can take action when they encounter lethal new drugs out on the streets.”

“Governor Baker’s bill updates existing legislation to fix flaws and fill in gaps related to dangerous drugs and soliciting criminal conduct,” said Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley. “But it also marks a major step forward in efforts to protect the victims, witnesses, and their loved ones.  By updating and clarifying the statutes related to witness protection and intimidation, it makes clear that their safety is always our first concern.”

The Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, Massachusetts Major City Police Chiefs Association and Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association have all endorsed the administration’s legislation.

“These are smart solutions to dangerous crimes the people of the Commonwealth face every day,” said Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes, President of Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police Association.  “The adoption of the federal drug scheduling would put Massachusetts law enforcement in a situation to act as soon as these new and dangerous drugs arrive in the Commonwealth.”

“Witness intimidation is a serious problem for public safety and presents a significant impediment to law enforcement’s efforts to reduce gang activity, violent crime, sexual assaults and illegal drug activity,” said Donald Caisey, President of Boston Detectives Union. “Gov. Baker’s proposal will go a long way towards providing necessary tools to make our city’s streets safer.”

“The efforts being taken by the Governor and District Attorney Conley are very important to families who have lost loved ones to senseless violent crimes,” said Monalisa Smith, Founder, President & CEO, of Mothers for Justice and Equality. “There is a fear factor that exists with these families who don’t know the identity of the perpetrator because no one has come forward and because of that, these families live in the shadow of that fear.  This legislation is important because it will help people who have witnessed a crime feel safer about coming forward.  Having the crime solved, helps us all to heal.” 

“Gavin Foundation supports Governor Baker’s public safety and public health approach to addressing the opiate epidemic,” said John P. McGahan, President/CEO Gavin Foundation, Inc. “This comprehensive bill addresses witness intimidation, increases accountability of drug traffickers and ensures appropriate classification of new to the market controlled substances.   We are grateful for the Governor’s leadership and the work of the legislators on this important issue.”   

The Baker-Polito Administration’s Legislative Public Safety Package:

  • Linked Federal Drug Scheduling: The federal government has historically responded swiftly to recognize and prohibit the importation and sale of lethal new and synthetic drugs through emergency scheduling powers, whereas state law must be amended to adopt prohibition. This scenario allows dangerous new synthetic drugs like Carfentanil and 25I-NBOMe (“N-Bomb”) to go unclassified, and frustrates the ability of state and local law enforcement to arrest dealers or obtain search warrants to seize these drugs. The proposal links state drug classifications, with the exception of marijuana, to the federal scheduling process, as New Hampshire has done, while retaining Massachusetts’ authority to make the final decision on the treatment of new drugs.
  • Death Caused by Illegal Distribution of Dangerous Drugs: The opioid crisis and drug overdoses have taken a tragic toll on the Commonwealth’s families and communities. While efforts continue to prioritize education, prevention, treatment and recovery, stronger penalties are needed to hold accountable those who profit from the sale of these dangerous drugs. Current state law treats driving under the influence and taking innocent lives as manslaughter punishable by a minimum of five years in prison. This proposal would hold drug dealers distributing these dangerous poisons to the same standard, reflecting the seriousness and devastation of the harm they have caused.
  • Witness Intimidation and Protection: The Commonwealth and administration is committed to protecting from harm those brave citizens who have stood up to identify and help convict dangerous criminals.  Witness intimidation is a felony under current law, but efforts to expand those protections in 2006 unintentionally withdrew protections for victims after they testified. In 2011, a Supreme Judicial Court decision invalidated the conviction of a man who had threatened to harm the daughter of his probation officer in retaliation for the probation officer telling a judge that he had violated his probation. This proposal would clarify and fix this gap in the statute, as the SJC has suggested, to ensure the Commonwealth’s laws make clear that harm, or threat of harm, will not be tolerated.
    • This provision also makes explicit that threats of harm to a family member will be treated just as seriously as a threat to a witness, and updates the Witness Protection Law to ensure prosecutors can assist witnesses and their families to keep them safe from retaliation both before and after a trial.
  • Solicitation of Murder: In most states attempting to procure a murder for hire (known as “solicitation to commit a felony”) is a serious felony; in Maine and New Hampshire, for instance, solicitation to commit murder is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Under current Massachusetts law, soliciting the murder of another person is treated as a misdemeanor.  This proposal updates the Massachusetts statute to correct this flaw, and would treat solicitation to commit a felony with the appropriate level of seriousness.

 

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