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The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently considered whether G. L. c. 211E, § 3 (e), authorizes a sentencing judge to depart from the mandatory minimum terms specified by statute for subsequent drug offenses.

The defendant in Commonwealth v. Laltaprasad was charged with possession of heroin with intent to distribute, G.L c. 94C, §32 (b); and possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, second or subsequent offense, G.L. c. 94C, §32A (d). Both statutory drug crimes are punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for not less than three and one-half years.

Laltaprasad was committed to a sentence of two and one-half years in a house of correction. The trial judge reasoned that the defendant’s lack of prior convictions and his current medical condition warranted a deviation from the statutory mandatory minimum term.

The SJC concluded that the Courts are “bound by mandatory minimums” and that the sentencing judge currently may not impose a sentence that departs from the prescribed mandatory minimum term. Additionally, the SJC stated that “the trial judge did not expressly reference G.L. c. 211E, §3(e) in sentencing the defendant or in her sentencing memorandum” however, “she relied on the §3(e) as authority to do so”.

The Court relies on Commonwealth v, Russo, 421 Mass. 317 (1995) as well as G. L. c. 211E, as guidance when there can be a departure from the mandatory minimum sentence.  The court interpreted G. L. c. 211E, § 3 (e) as “the authority to depart from mandatory minimum sentences set by statute was not intended to operate independently of sentencing guidelines recommended by the commission, and the guidelines themselves must be enacted by the legislature before they take effect.”

 

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