Criminal Law Reform
For decades, the ACLU of Massachusetts has worked for criminal law reforms to end our reliance on incarceration, eliminate racial disparities in the system, and reinvest in public health and human needs.
Ending the Drug War
Drug addiction is a public health concern, not a criminal justice issue.
For decades, the ACLU of Massachusetts has helped lead the way to end the unwinnable War on Drugs, and has fought the criminalization of drug use on several fronts.
In the courtroom, our attorneys challenged the unjust imprisonment of women suffering from addiction, prompting legislators to pass a law curbing the practice. We have also denounced increased drug war spending for law enforcement, advocating for resources to instead go towards addiction treatment and other effective public health interventions, like making more treatment beds available and expanding needle exchange programs.
After Massachusetts voters decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2008, the ACLU supported the successful 2012 ballot initiative that authorized use of medical marijuana in Massachusetts and the 2016 initiative to tax and regulate recreational marijuana for adults.
The ACLU of Massachusetts is dedicated to the safe and meaningful implementation of the state’s new marijuana law with a special focus on issues of social justice – from helping people get retroactive justice for previous convictions that are no longer crimes, to ensuring that new businesses born from the recent law are led by people of color and others most affected by the failed War on Drugs.
Mandatory Minimum Sentencing
The bottom line: Mandatory minimums are expensive, ineffective, and deeply discriminatory.
The ACLU of Massachusetts has long fought mandatory minimum sentencing for drug crimes. A 2013 report showed that people of color make up just 20 percent of the Massachusetts population and only one-third of convicted drug offenders, yet they are about 75 percent of people sentenced to a mandatory minimum term.
In 2018, we worked with a broad coalition to pass a package of criminal legal reforms, which included the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences for many drug-related offenses. While this is a significant victory, we will continue working until mandatory minimums are a thing of the past.
Massachusetts Drug Lab Scandals
After news broke about the scandal at the Hinton state drug lab, where chemist Annie Dookhan falsified or tempered with evidence in more than 24,000 cases, we fought all the way to the Massachusetts high court. After years of litigation, we secured the single largest dismissal of wrongful convictions in our nation’s history, giving tens of thousands of people who have been living with the consequences of their convictions the opportunity to clear their records and move on with their lives.
Despite the victory, a second drug lab scandal still looms over Massachusetts. Former chemist Sonja Farak tainted approximately 6,000 more cases at the Amherst drug lab. To make matters worse, state prosecutors lied about the scope of Farak’s misconduct. In 2017, the ACLU of Massachusetts brought a case to the state supreme court, and secured dismissals for thousands more wrongfully convicted people.
Note: If you were charged with a drug offense in Massachusetts from 2003-2013 and want to find out if Annie Dookhan or Sonja Farak worked on your case, call the CPCS Public Defender Drug Lab Hotline at 1-888-999-2881 or visit their website.
The ACLU believes the death penalty is inherently wrong. It violates the most basic principles of due process and equal protection, and the ban against cruel and unusual punishment. The death penalty is uncivilized in theory and unfair and inequitable in practice. In fact, it is imposed disproportionately upon those whose victims are white, offenders who are people of color, and on those who are poor.
Though Massachusetts’ last execution was in 1947, there have been efforts to bring the practice back. The ACLU of Massachusetts will continue its work to keep the death penalty out of our Commonwealth, along with our national organization’s work to eradicate capital punishment across the United States.