Massachusetts law about sentencing, probation, and parole

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases, and web sources on sentencing, probation, and parole law.

Table of Contents

Guidelines and reports

Sentencing Guidelines, Massachusetts Sentencing Commission, 2017.

Sentencing Best Practices, Mass. Trial Court, 2016.
Reports of working groups in BMC, District, Juvenile, and Superior Courts, with information regarding the purposes of sentencing and the empirically-based effect of sentences and probationary terms on recidivism.

Guidelines for Probation Violation Proceedings in the Superior Court

Massachusetts laws

MGL c.279, Judgment and Execution

MGL c.279, s.25 Habitual Offender (3 Strikes)

MGL c.27, s.5 Parole Board

MGL c.127, s.151A-151N Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision

MGL c.276, s.58A (1) "The commonwealth may move, based on dangerousness, for an order of pretrial detention...[for a person] arrested and charged with a violation of paragraph (a), (c), or (m) of section 10 of chapter 269 [illegal weapons]."

MGL c.276, s.83-103 Probation Officers

Master Crime List, Mass. Sentencing Commission
Lists felonies and misdemeanors first by MGL reference, and then alphabetically by offense, specifying the penalty type and sentencing information. Easiest way to find penalties for particular offenses.

Massachusetts regulations

103 CMR 410 Sentence computation

103 CMR 411 Deduction from sentence 

Court rules

Mass. Criminal Procedure Rule 28 Judgment
Mass. Criminal Procedure Rule 29 Revise and Revoke
Uniform Magistrate Rules: Rule 6: Preliminary Probation Revocation Hearings
District/Municipal Courts Rules for Probation Violation Proceedings

Selected case law

Blakely v. Washington, 524 US 296 (2004)
Applying the Apprendi decision to Washington law, the Supreme Court held that the 6th amendment requires any fact (other than a prior conviction) relied upon to impose an exceptional sentence must be admitted by the defendant or found by a jury.

Comm. v. Baez, 480 Mass. 328 (2018)
Juvenile offenses can be used as predicate offenses for enhanced penalties.

Comm. v. Eldred, 480 Mass. 90 (2018)
Probation can be revoked for failing drug test. "We conclude that, in appropriate circumstances, a judge may order a defendant who is addicted to drugs to remain drug free as a condition of probation, and that a defendant may be found to be in violation of his or her probation by subsequently testing positive for an illegal drug."

Comm. v. Henry, 475 Mass. 117 (2016)
Restitution and probation. "In determining whether to impose restitution and the amount of any such restitution, a judge must consider a defendant's ability to pay, and may not impose a longer period of probation or extend the length of probation because of a defendant's limited ability to pay restitution." Case then sets out the legal standard for determining the defendant's ability to pay.

Comm. v. McGonagle, 478 Mass. 678 (2018)
Victim impact statements. "We all stand equal before the bar of justice, and it is neither cruel nor unusual or irrational, nor is it violative of a defendant's due process guarantees, for a judge to listen with intensity to the perspective of a crime victim" when making a sentencing decision.

Comm. v. Ruiz, 480 Mass. 583 (2018)
Habitual criminal. "The Commonwealth has a right under G. L. c. 278, § 28E, and Mass. R. Crim. P. 15 (a) (1) to appeal from the dismissal of the sentence enhancement portion of an indictment." Also, where "predicate convictions supporting the sentence enhancements had arisen from two separate criminal episodes that had been the subject of indictments issued by one grand jury, and in which the defendant had pleaded guilty to both predicate charges in one proceeding, ... a review of the statutory history of § 25 (a) and its predecessor statutes confirmed that predicate convictions arising from separate qualifying criminal incidents or episodes need not be separately prosecuted in order for a person to be considered a habitual criminal under § 25 (a)."

Goe v. Commissioner of Probation, 473 Mass. 815 (2016)
Discusses the appropriate forum to challenge a special condition of probation when a probationer is transferred from one state to another under the Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision.

LaChance v. Commissioner of Correction, 463 Mass. 767 (2012)
Provides procedural safeguards for those in segregated confinement.


Comm. v. Perez, (Perez I) 477 Mass. 677 (2017)
"Where a juvenile is sentenced for a nonmurder offense or offenses and the aggregate time to be served prior to parole eligibility exceeds that applicable to a juvenile convicted of murder, the sentence cannot be reconciled with art. 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights unless, after a hearing considering the appropriate factors, the judge makes a finding that the circumstances warrant treating the juvenile more harshly for parole purposes than a juvenile convicted of murder."

Comm. v. Perez (Perez II), 480 Mass. 582 (2018)
Clarifies "the extraordinary circumstances requirement justifying longer periods of incarceration prior to eligibility for parole for juveniles who did not commit murder than for those who did."

Diatchenko v. District Attorney for the Suffolk Dist., 466 Mass. 655 (2013)
The SJC concluded "that the imposition of a sentence of life without the possibility of parole on juveniles who are under the age of eighteen when they commit the crime of murder in the first degree is unconstitutional..."

Diatchenko v. District Attorney for the Suffolk Dist., 471 Mass. 12 (2015)
Juvenile homicide offenders serving mandatory sentences of life without parole have a right to counsel at their initial parole hearing, including the right to have counsel appointed if they are indigent. They also have the right to "public funds, if they are indigent, in order to secure reasonably necessary expert assistance at their initial parole hearing." In addition, a juvenile homicide offender who is denied parole has a right to obtain judicial review of the parole board's decision through an action in the nature of certiorari, brought in the Superior Court.


Massachusetts Sentencing Commission
Massachusetts Parole Board
Massachusetts Probation Service

Web sources

In general

  • District Court Complaint Manual, Mass. District Court
    Includes suggested language and offense codes used by prosecutors to charge someone with any of approximately 5000 offenses mentioned in the General Laws, Code of Mass. Regulations, and municipal ordinances & by-laws; provides the authorized sentencing range for each offense; and, if the penalty for an offense is derived from a different statute, that statute is referenced.
  • Comprehensive Recidivism Study, Mass. Sentencing Commission

Probation and parole

Pardon and commutation

Print sources



Within Massachusetts only

Within Massachusetts only


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