Letter to the Editor: This criminal justice reform bill takes us in the wrong direction

To the Editor:

After reading the commentary by state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz in the Reporter (March 29) titled “Criminal justice reform legislation a turning point for Massachusetts” March 28, 2018, I thought it should have been titled, “A turn in the wrong direction.”  In the first paragraph the author accuses the criminal justice system of being “costly,” “ineffective,” and “systemically racist.”  The author did not cite examples that supported such harsh accusations.

I feel a sense of comfort knowing that the current criminal justice system is in place to protect us from criminals and to shield our families from those in the drug trade who make a living exploiting children. I am confident that many others feel the same way I do.

Our current system assumes the accused are innocent until proven guilty.  People on trial for a criminal offense are given the option of being judged by a jury of their peers.  Before they make a decision, the jurors will hear a caveat from the judge citing the threshold that must be met by the government in order for them to render a verdict of guilty. 

Legal representation is provided for those who cannot afford it.  In many cases, the threshold that must be met for an accused individual to be found criminally responsible for a particular crime is more stringent in Massachusetts than in the federal system. It seems pretty fair to me.

The senator’s commentary suggested that Massachusetts raise the felony threshold.  If this becomes law, it would change certain current crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. I invite any reader to look at the list of Massachusetts felonies and specify which ones should be changed to misdemeanors, then do some research to see if those are the ones that are slated for change. You may be disappointed.

Sadly, we are in the midst of an opioid crisis in Massachusetts and we have folks looking to reduce the penalties for criminal drug offenses. This commentary calls for a repeal of the “ineffective and racist mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenses.” 

I have a question: If an individual is arrested with a large amount of oxycontin, heroin, or fentanyl, and there was no violence involved in how the person obtained the drugs, are we looking to reduce a mandatory penalty for drug trafficking in this instance?  This individual is clearly assisting in the distribution of these drugs, thus aiding in the demise of drug addicts and adding to the constant suffering of their families.  A stiff penalty is clearly appropriate in this case.

Lastly, I feel that a commentary on something as important as criminal justice reform should include specific reasons on why we need the proposed changes and what exactly is being proposed in the legislation.

Tom Leahy