Conference joins amicus brief on mandatory minimum sentencing

3/29/2016

The Massachusetts Conference, by a vote of the Board of Directors, has joined 40 other organizations in calling on the state's highest court to recognize constitutional exceptions to mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws.

The Conference has signed on to an "amicus" (friend of the court) brief submitted to the state Supreme Judicial Court for a case to be argued on April 5. The brief was drafted by the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) and the law firm of Foley Hoag.

The Board voted to join the brief based on last year's Annual Meeting vote in favor of a resolution that called for Dismantling Discriminatory Systems of Mass Incarceration in Massachusetts.

The case is Commonwealth v. Laltaprasad. In 2015, Mr. Laltaprasad was convicted of two low level, nonviolent drug offenses.  Superior Court judge Shannon Frison sentenced Mr. Laltaprasad to 2½ years in a county house of correction, instead of the 3½-year mandatory state prison sentence that the Middlesex District Attorney claims is required.  When imposing the shorter sentence, the judge noted Mr. Laltaprasad’s “extreme medical condition” and the small quantities of drugs he possessed. His medical condition stems from life-threatening injuries he sustained as the result of a 2010 shooting – for which his assailants received two years in prison.

Read the entire press release below:



State’s high court urged to recognize constitutional exceptions to
mandatory minimum drug sentencing laws.
 
41 Massachusetts organizations join call for fairness
 
BOSTON – Forty-one Massachusetts organizations have filed an “amicus” (friend of the court) brief with the Supreme Judicial Court, in the case of Commonwealth v. Laltaprasad, which will be argued on April 5. The brief was drafted by the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) and the law firm of Foley Hoag.
 
In 2015, Mr. Laltaprasad was convicted of two low level, nonviolent drug offenses.  Superior Court judge Shannon Frison sentenced Mr. Laltaprasad to 2½ years in a county house of correction, instead of the 3½-year mandatory state prison sentence that the Middlesex District Attorney claims is required.  When imposing the shorter sentence, the judge noted Mr. Laltaprasad’s “extreme medical condition” and the small quantities of drugs he possessed. His medical condition stems from life-threatening injuries he sustained as the result of a 2010 shooting – for which his assailants received two years in prison.
 
“Time has proven that mandatory minimum drug laws create serious constitutional problems,” said Benjamin Keehn, CPCS Appellate Co-counsel. “They shift a core judicial function -- the power to sentence -- from judges to prosecutors. They strip judges of the ability to fairly consider mitigating circumstances unique to the offender, resulting in some sentences that are ‘cruel or unusual.’ And they are enforced at an intolerably disproportionate rate against people of color, like Mr. Laltaprasad, in violation of equal protection principles. Judge Frison’s sentence was entirely consistent with her obligation to avoid these constitutional problems. And it was permissible under a statute, passed by a supermajority of the Legislature, that clearly says judges ‘may impose a sentence below any mandatory minimum term’ when ‘mitigating circumstances’ exist."
 
Greg Newburn, FAMM’s state policy director, stated, “The sentencing judge in this case correctly recognized the injustice of one-size-fits all sentences. They ignore the real person who stands before the court, too often resulting in indefensible sentences.” A total of 41 organizations, including criminal justice, religious, and academic groups (see complete list below), urged the Supreme Judicial Court to recognize that mandatory minimum drug laws can result in unconstitutional sentences. “The number and range of groups that added their names to this brief show that the public is fed up with mandatory drug sentences that ignore the role of addiction and weigh most heavily on communities of color.”
 
Foley Hoag provided pro bono assistance to CPCS and FAMM in the drafting of the amicus brief, which was ultimately joined by dozens of legal, community, and religious organizations, all of which have seized the opportunity in this case to raise important and timely constitutional challenges to minimum mandatory drug laws, which have been interpreted in a way that the Legislature never intended and that the state and federal constitutions do not permit.  These laws, which have been abused by prosecutors,  have prevented judges from fulfilling their most basic judicial responsibility:  to ensure that justice is done.  This case is only one recent example of Foley Hoag’s long history of taking on important cases concerning social and racial justice, in the Commonwealth and elsewhere, a pro bono commitment that dates back to the efforts to desegregate the Boston schools in the 1970s.

Organizations that joined the brief:

American Friends Service Committee
Arise for Social Action
Black & Pink
Blackstonian
Brookline PAX
Center for Church & Prison
Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice, Harvard Law School
Coalition for Effective Public Safety
Coalition for Social Justice
?Committee for Public Counsel Services
Community Resources for Justice
Criminal Justice Policy Coalition
Ex-Prisoners & Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement
Families Against Mandatory Minimums
Families for Justice as Healing
Greater Boston Interfaith Organization
Greater Boston Legal Services
Jewish Alliance for Law & Social Action
Jobs Not Jails
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights & Economic Justice
Mass. Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
Mass. Black Lawyers Association
Mass. Conference of United Church of Christ
MassINC
Mass. Organization for Addiction Recovery
Mass. Law Reform Institute
NAACP, New England Area Conference 
National Association of Social Workers, Mass. Chapter
National Lawyers Guild, Mass. Chapter
New Start Project
Out Now
Partakers
Prison Policy Initiative
Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts
Real Cost of Prison Project
Social Workers for Peace & Justice
South Asian Bar Association, Greater Boston
Span
Trinity Chapel
Union of Minority Neighborhoods 
Unitarian Universalist Mass Action Network

 
 


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