Massachusetts law about sentencing, probation, and parole

A compilation of laws, regulations, cases, and web sources on sentencing, probation, parole, and executive clemency (pardons and commutations) in Massachusetts.

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Table of Contents


CDC Guidance on Management of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Correctional and Detention Facilities, May 3, 2022. 

Christie v. Commonwealth, 484 Mass. 397 (2020)
Analysis applied to motions to stay execution of a criminal defendant's sentence pending appeal, given the health risk to persons in custody arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Chief Justice of Trial Court, 484 Mass. 431 and 484 Mass. 1029 (2020)
Conditions for release of pretrial detainees and incarcerated individuals for medical release. 

Commonwealth v. McDermott, 488 Mass. 169 (2021)
"[W]hether a defendant previously has been infected or has been vaccinated should not be counted against the defendant when assessing the defendant's motion for a stay."

Foster v. Commissioner of Correction, 484 Mass. 698 (2020)
Judges should not make drug-treatment-related civil commitments absent a finding that the danger posed by an individual's substance abuse outweighed risk of transmission of COVID-19 in congregate settings. 

Guidelines and reports

Guidelines for probation violation proceedings in the Superior Court

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.

Sentencing guidelines, Massachusetts Sentencing Commission, 2017.


Massachusetts laws

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.

St. 2022, c.126 § 104 Removed the sections requiring probation fees
As of July 1, 2022 there are no longer any monthly probation fees and any fees paid after that date will be refunded.

MGL c. 22E, § 3 DNA collection required upon felony conviction; probation officers have authority to take sample

MGL c.27, § 5 Parole Board

MGL c.123, § 16 Hospitalization of persons incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of mental illness; see Garcia v. Commonwealth

MGL c.127, § 119A Medical parole

MGL c. 127, § 129D Good time credit for state prison sentences is 7.5 days per program per month

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

MGL c.276, § 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, §§ 83-103 Probation officers

MGL c. 276, § 87B Eligible offenders can earn probation compliance credits that reduce the length of post-disposition probation supervision

MGL c. 278, § 18 Continued without a finding, nolo contendere, specific dispositions

MGL c.279, Judgment and execution

MGL c.279, § 25 Habitual offender (3 strikes)

Massachusetts regulations

103 CMR 410 Sentence computation

103 CMR 411 Deduction from sentence 

120 CMR Parole Board regulations

501 CMR 17 Medical parole

Court rules

Mass. Criminal Procedure Rule 28 Judgment

Mass. Criminal Procedure Rule 29 Revise and revoke

Mass. Criminal Procedure Rule 31 Stay of execution; relief pending review automatic expiration of stay

Uniform Magistrate Rules: Rule 6: Preliminary probation revocation hearings

District/Municipal Courts Rules for Probation Violation Proceedings

Selected case law

Blakely v. Washington, 542 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.

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

Com. v. Beverly, 485 Mass. 1 (2020)
Continued Without a Finding (CWOF) is a sentence that can be challenged by a rule 29 revise and revoke procedure. A judge can't issue a CWOF without terms and conditions or probation. 

Com. v. Coelho, 96 Mass. App. Ct. 901 (2019)
Revise and revoke. A defendant can't file a "placeholder" motion within the 60 day time limit and then later supply the grounds on which it is based. Both the motion and an affidavit explaining the reasoning must be filed within the 60 days.

Com. 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."

Com. v. Feliz, 481 Mass. 689 (2019)
The state law (MGL c.265, § 47) that requires everyone placed on probation for certain sex offenses wear a GPS bracelet is too broad. The court must decide on a case by case basis whether the particular reasons for imposing GPS monitoring outweigh the intrusion on that defendant's privacy.

Com. 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.

Com. v. Martinez, 480 Mass. 777 (2018)
Procedure for refund of court costs, fines, victim-witness assessments and restitution after a conviction has been invalidated. (Refund is payment back from the Courts for what they received; restitution is what’s usually paid to victims.)

Com. v. McGonagle, 478 Mass. 675 (2018)
Victim impact statements. A judge may listen to and consider sentencing recommendations from a victim when making a sentencing decision.

Com. v. Montarvo, 486 Mass. 535 (2020)
The "three strikes law," MGL c.279, § 25(a) allows a judge to sentence a defendant to probation. "Should the Legislature decide to do so, it may amend § 25 (a) to bar a judge from imposing probation."

Com. v. Nash / Com. v. Elibert, 486 Mass. 394 (2020)
Provides detailed guidance on how the state or a defendant should appeal a stay of sentence pending appeal. Also provides clarifying guidance after Christie v. Com. on how judges should apply the "COVID-19 factor" when considering a stay.

Com. v. Norman, 484 Mass. 330 (2020)
Pre-trial use of GPS monitoring.

Com. v. Plasse, 481 Mass. 199 (2019)
A trial court judge may consider a defendant's need for rehabilitation in imposing a sentence of incarceration after violation of probation.

Com. v. Rodriguez, 482 Mass. 366 (2019)
Lengthy discussion of seemingly contradictory mandatory minimum sentences in GL c.269, § 10 (m) and appropriate statutory construction.

Com. v. Rossetti, 95 Mass. App. Ct. 552 (2019)
Unlawful disposition but no sentence. Where a judge had entered a continuance without a finding pursuant to G. L. c. 278, § 18, but did not impose specific conditions as required by the statute and then immediately dismissed the case, the disposition was unlawful. But because that disposition was not a sentence, relief under rule 29 (a) was not available. Instead, the Commonwealth should have filed an appeal pursuant to Mass. R. Crim. P. 15 (a) within thirty days of the date on which the charge was dismissed.

Com. v. Ruiz, 480 Mass. 683 (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, “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)."

Com. v. Tejeda, 481 Mass. 794 (2019)
Usually, motions to revise and revoke a sentence have to be based only on the facts as they existed at the time of sentencing. This case creates a limited exception - a judge can consider a sentence on a codefendant who was tried separately, convicted of the same crime, equally responsible, but given a different sentence. The judge may choose to revise the first defendant's sentence in the interest of fairness.

Com. v. Watt, 484 Mass. 742 (2020)
A murder was committed by 2 defendants - one was 17 and the other was 18 at the time of the crime. The case was remanded to look at research on brain development after 17 to help decide whether the sentence imposed on the 18 year old defendant (life in prison without the possibility of parole), was constitutional

Com. v. Williams, 96 Mass. App. Ct. 610 (2019)
Correcting a sentence under criminal rule 30(a) is not available to a person who has already completed the sentence.

Garcia v. Commonwealth, 487 Mass. 97 (2021)
G. L. c. 123, § 16(a), contains no standard for determining whether to commit temporarily a criminal defendant who has been found not criminally responsible by reason of mental illness to a facility other than Bridgewater State Hospital. In mental health context, it is unconstitutional to confine a non-dangerous person against his or her will merely to provide treatment. "The Legislature may wish to address this point by amending § 16(a) to include a legal standard to guide judges as to when they can order a temporary commitment for observation after a verdict of not criminally responsible."

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.

Harmon v. Commissioner of Correction, 487 Mass. 470 (2021)
Medical parole. Prisoners may submit subsequent petitions for medical parole after one has been denied or has not been acted upon; the medical parole statute applies only to committed offenders and not pretrial detainees.

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

Malloy v. Department of Correction, 487 Mass. 482 (2021)
Medical parole. "Once the Commissioner of Correction issues a final, favorable decision... on medical parole..., the Department...must be proactive in working to release the prisoner expeditiously, but reasonable short-term delays are acceptable where they are outside the control of the department..."


Com. 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."

Com. v. Perez (Perez II), 480 Mass. 562 (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."

Com. v. Terrell, 486 Mass. 596 (2021)
A Juvenile Court judge can't order credit for time served ("preadjudication detention credit") when sentencing.

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.

Web sources

In general

Probation and parole

  • About probation, Mass. Probation Service.
    A probation sentence, sometimes called community supervision, gives you the opportunity to stay in the community, work, and be with your family and friends with specific conditions instead of being sentenced to prison or the house of correction. A probation officer will be assigned to help and monitor you during your time on probation.
  • Adult Compact version 2, Council of State Governments.
    Concise article explaining the interstate compact for tracking and supervising parolees and probationers that move between states.
  • ELMO (Electronic Monitoring Program) information, Mass. Probation Service.
    Find out how the Global Positioning System (GPS) devices and remote breath alcohol monitoring devices used for probation work.
  • Interstate Compact for Adult Offender Supervision.
    Site includes rules, bylaws, advisory opinions, bench book for judges and court personnel, forms, and more. Everything you need to know to transfer supervision to another state.
  • Parole records and hearings, Parole Board.
    Find information about parole hearings and life sentence parole hearings.
  • Surveys of Massachusetts sentencing practices, Massachusetts Sentencing Commission. 

Pardon and commutation

  • Executive clemency guidelines, Gov. Baker, 2020. 
    Provides guidance on the requirements to be considered for a pardon or commutation, with emphasis on key points of interest to the Advisory Board of Pardons. 
  • Executive clemency overview, Mass. Parole Board.
    Explains the difference between pardon and commutation, with guidelines and petitions.
  • Massachusetts restoration of rights & record relief, Restoration of Rights Project, 2022.
    Provides a detailed summary of law and procedure on pardons, firearms and expungement under new marijuana law.

Print sources

Criminal law, 3rd ed., (Mass. practice v.32), West Pub Co., 2001 with supplement.

LexisNexis practice guide: Massachusetts criminal law. Lexis, annual.  Chapters 8, 9, 10.

Sentencing, probation and parole, MCLE, 2018.

Standards of the Massachusetts Probation Service, Probation Service, 2011.


Last updated: November 15, 2022

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