Massachusetts Criminal Law: An Overview

Massachusetts, home to the infamous Salem Witch Trials, had executed close to 350 criminals prior to its final execution in 1947—26 of whom were convicted for practicing witchcraft. Today, Massachusetts no longer carries out executions despite having the 18th highest violent crime rate in the nation in 2014.

While Massachusetts cities like New Bedford, Fall River, and Chelsea rank in the latter half of the top 50 most dangerous cities in the U.S., one in 18 people could be a victim of a crime in Chelsea. Even the state capital of Boston has a total reported crime rate of 37.35 crimes per 1,000 residents, placing it at number nine in the top 10 Massachusetts cities with the highest crime rates.

Massachusetts Felonies and Misdemeanors

Massachusetts clearly defines the difference between felonies and misdemeanors in relation to where a criminal is sentenced for imprisonment. If a crime automatically sentences a term in state prison, it is a felony. If a crime doesn't sentence a term in state prison, it is a misdemeanor.

Felonies are the most serious crimes in Massachusetts. They include murder, third or successive drunk driving offenses, arson, etc. Misdemeanors are less serious crimes that include disorderly conduct, most criminal traffic offenses, petty theft, etc.

In addition to felonies and misdemeanors are civil infractions, which are minor violations. These crimes are not sentenced with any term of imprisonment. Instead, civil infractions are penalized with fines. Examples of civil infractions include minor traffic infractions and possession of less than one ounce of marijuana.

Massachusetts OUI Laws

In Massachusetts, you can be charged with operating a vehicle under the influence (OUI) if you're visibly impaired by drugs or medication or if you register at a 0.08 percent or higher blood-alcohol content (BAC) level from chemical testing.

First OUI offenses can include penalties like up to one year of license suspension, up to a $5,000 fine, and up to 2.5 years in jail. If a police officer finds an open container of alcohol anywhere within the vehicle, regardless of whether the driver was drinking or not, the driver can be charged with a fine of up to $500.

Voluntary versus Involuntary Manslaughter in Massachusetts

Unlike murder which is defined in Massachusetts as premeditated homicide, manslaughter is homicide without premeditation, also known as murder "in the heat of the moment." Manslaughter typically carries lighter penalties compared to murder because of this distinct difference of intentions. There is also a difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter in Massachusetts.

Voluntary manslaughter is homicide in response to a reasonable provocation. For example, if a husband finds his wife cheating on him at home and he murders her and/or her lover in the heat of the moment, it was involuntary manslaughter.

Involuntary manslaughter is homicide without intention, meaning that the murderer had no intention of killing his or her victim. For example, if a car accident claims the life of the other driver or a passenger, the driver at fault may be guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Capital Punishment in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has not exercised its capital punishment laws since its last execution in 1947. The Massachusetts Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional in 1984 and it hasn't been reinstated since despite several legislative attempts.

Even though capital punishment isn't exercised by the state, federal felony cases that are handled in Massachusetts courts such as the Boston Marathon Bomber case still sentence capital punishment.

Contact a Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorney

Anyone facing criminal charges in Massachusetts has the right to mount a vigorous defense. A qualified Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorney familiar with local criminal procedures and laws can be a crucial advocate.

Make sure you talk with an attorney about your case and your needs before hiring one. Most criminal defense lawyers should be able to handle any misdemeanor or low-level crime. Not all attorneys are qualified to handle serious charges.

A qualified criminal defense attorney could mean the difference between going to jail and going free.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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