The opioid epidemic continues to wreak havoc on families though out the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Often a common denominator among individuals facing criminal prosecution is that they personally, or someone that they care about, are impacted by some level of addiction. The issue of addiction and various strategies to treat addiction are commonplace in the court system; however, there is rarely a clear solution. Recently, an appellant posed questions of law to our state’s highest court, to address whether an individual suffering from addiction should be held to a different standard with respect to conditions of probation.
More specifically, the Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) recently addressed the following questions of Massachusetts Law: 1. If an individual is found to be addicted to drugs, can the court order, as a condition of probation, that individual to remain “drug-free”; 2. If so ordered, and the “drug-free” condition is violated, can the order of probation be revoked therefor; and, 3. At detention hearing, where the court finds probable cause to believe that the individual violated “drug-free” condition, can the court lawfully order that the probationer be detained while awaiting admission into an inpatient treatment facility?
To all three questions of law, the SJC answered in the affirmative. The SJC acknowledged that the goals of a probationary sentence require a balancing of the following two interests: the rehabilitation of the probationer; and, the protection of the public from potential recidivism. The SJC found that the district court did not abuse its discretion, and effectively balanced the goals of probation, while taking into account the specific circumstances and particular challenges inherent in a probationer that is admittedly struggling with addiction.
The appellant argued that, relapse is an inherent part of recovery from addiction, and it would therefor be unlawful to punish an individual suffering from addiction for relapse. The appellant further argued that, while suffering from addiction, the individual could not willfully decide whether to continue to remain “drug-free;” therefore, there could not be a finding of revocation of probation for a willful violation of said condition. While noting the myriad challenges that individuals suffering form addiction face, the SJC disagreed.
The SJC commended the exercise of discretion exhibited by the district court judge, where the judge thoughtfully considered the underlying offense – a larceny crime, admittedly committed to support the probationer’s addiction – and balancing the probationary goals of protecting the public, and rehabilitating the probationer. Accordingly, the SJC found that ordering the probationer detained, while awaiting admission into an inpatient treatment facility was an appropriate exercise of discretion.
If you, or someone that you care about, battle addiction and face criminal prosecution for drug-related criminal offenses, it is important that you contact an attorney that is experienced in both defending your rights and guiding you into the best treatment options to assist in your recovery. Contact Attorney Vincent A. Tofani now for your free consultation 617.886.0500.