Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Holds That Conditions Of Probation Must Be Reasonably Related To Offense

In Commonwealth v.Gomes the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that a probationary condition requiring that the defendant submit to random testing relative to the use of drugs and alcohol was improper. On appeal, the defendant challenged the probationary condition that he submit to random drug and alcohol testing. He did not challenge the condition that he abstain from alcohol and drugs. The defendant was on probation as part of a sentence stemming from convictions for various firearm offenses. Although the defendant was under twenty-one years old at the time of his conviction, there was no indication that he had ever used drugs or alcohol and he had no criminal history that related to illegal drug or alcohol use. Furthermore, the use of drugs or alcohol were not implicated in the offense.

Massachusetts General Laws c. 276, ยง 87 permits a trial court to “place on probation … any person before it charged with an offense or a crime for such time and upon such conditions as it deems proper …” The primary goals of probation are rehabilitation of the probationer and protection of the public. Massachusetts Courts have recognized that the goals of probation are best served if the conditions of probation are tailored to address the particular characteristics of the defendant and the crime.

Relative to the requirement that an individual submit to random drug and alcohol testing, Massachusetts Courts recognize that random drug and alcohol testing constitutes a search and seizure for constitutional purposes under Article Fourteen of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. Accordingly, the condition must be reasonably related to legitimate probationary goals in order to withstand constitutional scrutiny. In this case, the court found that an impermissible probationary condition was similar to an illegal sentence. Unless the Commonwealth can demonstrate that random testing was reasonably related to recognized probationary goals for this particular defendant, the impermissible probationary condition will be struck.

In local Massachusetts District Courts such as Newburyport, Peabody, Lowell and Lawrence many defendants do not go to jail as a result of the conviction. Often a defendant finds himself facing prison because he had violated a term of probation and the probation officer moves to surrender him. One possible outcome of this type of hearing is that the individual’s probation is terminated and a committed sentence is imposed. It is imperative that you have an experienced Massachusetts trial attorney representing you during a sentencing hearing to ensure that any imposed conditions are reasonably related to the conviction. This will often avoid a surrender hearing ftriggered from impractical and often unconstitutional conditions of probation.

If you are facing a probation surrender hearing in Massachusetts, you must have an experienced defense attorney on your side.