Post Date: November 22, 2013
Yesterday, Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) decided two school zone cases, Commonwealth v. Bradley and Commonwealth v. Pagan. The court ruled that the 2012 sentencing reforms, which reduced the size of school zones from 1,000 feet to 300 feet, should apply to all drug offenders sentenced after the reforms took effect – even if the offense took place before the new law was passed. FAMM argued for this outcome in our “friend of the court” brief and we are delighted.
Read the opinions. The Bradley decision gives a more in-depth explanation of the SJC’s reasoning while the Pagan decision is shorter but mentions FAMM. We congratulate Mr. Pagan’s attorney, Jennifer Sunderland from the Committee for Public Counsel Services, and Mr. Bradley’s attorneys, Stephen Pagnotta and James Loughman, for their excellent work.
Who is affected? The Court’s decision may affect those drug offenders convicted of school zone offenses if a) the offense was committed before August 2, 2012; b) the offense took place between 300 and 1,000 feet from a school; and c) they were sentenced after August 2, 2012. They should talk to their defense attorneys to see if and how the SJC’s decision affects their particular case. Neither the Dept. of Correction nor the county sheriffs have the authority to change anyone’s school zone sentence.
FAMM’s brief. FAMM filed a “friend of the court” brief, urging the court to rule as it did. We are happy to see that the SJC appears to have relied on our discussion of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 case, U.S. v. Dorsey (concerning reduced crack cocaine sentences), in its Bradley opinion. Our brief also detailed research showing how the old version of the school zone law unfairly punished people of color, urban residents and low-income communities. In light of the extreme disparities that the 2012 reforms were designed to lessen, we argued that the Legislature wanted those disparities to end on the day the law was signed. The SJC agreed.
Please let us know if you have any questions.
Barbara J. Dougan
Massachusetts Project Director
Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM)
Contact FAMM’s Massachusetts Project:
By phone: (617) 543-0878
By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
By mail: P.O. Box 54, Arlington, MA 02476