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Criminal Sentencing - Habitual offender.

Byline: Mass. Lawyers Weekly Staff

Where a defendant had previously pleaded guilty to two charges of assault and battery arising from two distinct criminal episodes, the sentencing enhancements for habitual offenders were applicable even though the two predicate convictions stemmed from a single criminal proceeding.

"In March, 2016, a grand jury returned eleven indictments against the defendant for a variety of charges in connection with an incident alleged to have occurred on February 17, 2016. All but two of these indictments carried sentencing enhancements under 25 (a).

"The predicate convictions supporting the habitual criminal portions of the indictments were the result of guilty pleas tendered by the defendant in 2008. The defendant pleaded guilty to separate charges of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon arising from two separate criminal episodes, which occurred in August and September of 2006.

"In 2008, the defendant was indicted for both offenses by the same grand jury and pleaded guilty to both charges in one proceeding.

" [T]he Commonwealth contends that 25 (a) does not require that the predicate convictions arise from charges separately prosecuted.

" Our review of 25 (a)'s historical development supports the conclusion that the legislative objective of 25 (a) is to punish all offenders who have prior convictions stemming from two or more separate and distinct criminal episodes, and that the Legislature specifically rejected the requirement of separate and sequential prosecutions for predicate offenses.

"The Legislature's decision to enact a statute expressly requiring separate prosecutions of predicate offenses with a period of liberty between those prosecutions, followed by the repeal and replacement of that statute with a version that does not contain those requirements, 'reflect[s] a conscious decision by the Legislature to deviate from the standard embodied in the [previous] statute.' Commonwealth v. Resende, 474 Mass. 455, 466 (2016), quoting Globe Newspaper Co. v. Boston Retirement Bd., 388 Mass. 427, 433 (1983).

" That the Legislature reenacted the same statute in 2012 without including the requirement that the predicate offenses be separately brought and tried under 25 (a), yet included that requirement under 25 (b), provides further support that the Legislature did not intend to modify prior assumptions about this statute to include this requirement.

" Subsequent offense charges are prosecuted in a separate proceeding, only if and after the defendant has been convicted of the underlying substantive offense. G. L. c. 278, 11A. Thus, when a judge dismisses the sentence enhancement portion of an indictment, he or she is terminating that particular proceeding.

" If the Commonwealth is denied the ability to seek an appeal from the dismissal of subsequent offense charges, those charges might be 'lost either to further prosecution or any appellate review.' Burke v. Commonwealth, 373 Mass. 157, 160 (1977)."


Gants, C.J. "I write separately only to make a few observations that suggest that 25 (a) warrants revisiting by the Legislature.

"First, the legislative intent that we effectuate today is that of the Legislature in 1887. Needless to say, attitudes about crime and punishment have changed significantly since then.

"Second, the sanction imposed by the habitual criminal statute has become considerably more severe a habitual criminal who in 1887 would have faced twenty-five years of imprisonment could today face the far harsher punishment of imprisonment for life.

"Third, significant changes in other sentencing laws have caused the habitual criminal statute to operate more harshly today than it has in the past. As a result of these changes, habitual criminals who may in the past have had an opportunity to obtain early release through statutory good time or to become eligible for parole at an earlier time are no longer able to do so.

"Fourth, [u]nder [the] common understanding of the term, an individual is considered a habitual criminal only if he or she continues to commit serious crimes after repeatedly being punished for those crimes. The habitual criminal statute in 25 (a) is at odds with this common understanding. "

Commonwealth v. Ruiz (Lawyers Weekly No. 10-168-18) (28 pages) (Budd, J.) (Gants, C.J., concurring) Case commenced in the Supreme Judicial Court and heard by Lenk, J. David L. Sheppard-Brick for the commonwealth; Patrick A. Michaud for the respondent. (SJC-12404) (Oct. 11, 2018).

Click here for the full opinion text.

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Title Annotation:Commonwealth v. Ruiz, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Publication:Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly
Date:Oct 11, 2018
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