Massachusetts Criminal Law: An Overview
You may be feeling anxious if you are facing criminal charges in Massachusetts. That anxiety might be amplified for anyone with little to no knowledge of their local criminal justice system.
Read on to learn about different aspects of criminal law in Massachusetts, including Massachusetts DUI laws, the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony, and suggestions to help empower you as you choose your criminal defense attorney.
What Is the Difference Between a Misdemeanor and a Felony?
How does the state of Massachusetts define different criminal classifications or levels of criminal offenses? Simply put, crimes are put into certain categories according to severity and length of punishment. Felonies are punishable by a minimum one-year jail sentence. All other crimes are misdemeanors by default.
Misdemeanors are classified by level in Massachusetts. Any criminal action with a maximum statutory penalty of imprisonment of at least six months is a level two misdemeanor. Any crime with a maximum sentence of six months behind bars or less is a level one misdemeanor.
Examples of common misdemeanor crimes include:
- Disorderly conduct
- Petty theft
- Drug possession
- Driving under the influence (first and second offense)
- Public intoxication
According to the state’s criminal justice code, a felony charge applies to any crimes for which the statute mandates a minimum prison sentence of one year. Any earlier convictions on a criminal record may result in more substantial penalties for current or future criminal issues.
Examples of common felony crimes include:
- Sex crimes, such as rape
- White-collar crimes, such as embezzlement
- Drug crimes, such as illegal use and possession
- Assault and battery
First-degree murder carries a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole. Massachusetts does not have a death penalty.
Massachusetts Drunk Driving Laws
Massachusetts residents pulled over and arrested on drunk driving charges could face a wide variety of punishments if convicted. Penalties will range in severity depending on a few factors, including the nature of the arrest and the number of criminal offenses on record.
State law says that drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of .08% or higher are too drunk to drive. The law is more strict for those under 21. It applies a threshold BAC of .02%, and a violation will likely result in criminal charges. Massachusetts refers to a drunk driving or impaired driving charge as operating under the influence (OUI). Other states use the terms driving under the influence (DUI) and driving while impaired (DWI) to refer to drivers operating a motor vehicle while drunk.
An OUI refers to more than just the influence of alcohol. A police officer may charge a driver with an OUI if the officer suspects impaired driving resulting from mood-altering or behavior-altering substances, including glue vapors, stimulants, and depressants.
Drivers should know that any prior OUI convictions will remain on your permanent driving record under its “look-back law.” Previous penalties may increase the severity of penalties applied for current OUI charges. A driver convicted of a misdemeanor first offense OUI, for example, may face:
- Jail time of up to 2.5 years
- Fine ranging from $500-$5,000
- Suspended license for one year
- A probation supervision fee of $65 per month
Drunk drivers convicted of a felony third offense OUI face a mandatory minimum of 150 days in a state prison with a maximum of five years, and fines ranging from $1,000 to $15,000.
Marijuana Laws in Massachusetts
Is marijuana use, possession, and cultivation legal in the state of Massachusetts? Under Massachusetts state law, anyone 21 and older can have up to one ounce on their person and up to 10 ounces at home for personal use. However, marijuana is still considered to be a controlled substance under federal law and, therefore, is still illegal under federal law.
According to state law in Massachusetts:
- Anyone 21 and older may have and grow up to six plants in their home for personal use, or 12 plants for two or more adults
- You may have up to 10 ounces of marijuana at home if the amount over one ounce is locked away
- You may not smoke or ingest marijuana or marijuana products in public
- If driving, cannabis must be in a closed container in the trunk or locked glove box
- Driving under the influence of marijuana is a chargeable offense
Understanding what is legal and what is not when it comes to marijuana use and possession can help you protect yourself against criminal charges and avoiding a potential criminal record.
Finding a Lawyer
You are likely in search of a criminal defense lawyer if you are facing charges for one or more criminal offenses. Most people need to decide on a criminal lawyer quickly, so it may help you feel more confident during your search to have a few guidelines. Consider the following questions when researching each law firm on your radar:
- Does the law office offer a free consultation to discuss criminal cases with potential clients?
- How many years of experience does the criminal lawyer have?
- Does the law firm provide criminal defense for cases like yours?
- Does the criminal lawyer have experience in district court and/or federal court?
- Does the criminal defense lawyer you are considering have any experience as a trial attorney?
- Are there online law firm client reviews you can read to find out more about the firm’s interaction with criminal defense clients?
Prepare Yourself With Knowledge
Learning about issues specific to Massachusetts criminal defense can help ease any anxieties, as what you learn may help you feel more engaged and prepared. Whether you are in Worcester County or Suffolk County, Framingham, Quincy, or Boston, you can find the Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorney who is ready to take your case and defend you against your criminal charges.