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Attorney Pagnotta wins at Supreme Judicial Court

In Commonwealth v. Bradley,466 Mass. 551 (2013), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court gave retroactive effect to the §30 of the Crime Bill, which reduced the radius of the Drug-Free School Zone from 1,000 feet to 300 feet. The effect is that individuals charged with a "School Zone" violation, but whose charges have not been adjudicated are entitled to the benefit of the change in the law.

On November 8, 2010, the Williamstown police executed a search warrant and seized a quantity of marijuana from the defendant's dorm room. The defendant's dorm room was approximately 700 feet from an accredited pre-school facility. The defendant was charged with possession of a class D substance with intent to distribute and with a "School Zone" violation because the alleged violation occurred within 1000 feet of a pre-school facility.

On August 2, 2012, while the defendant's case remained pending, the Governor signed the "Crime Bill" (St. 2012, c. 192) into law. The Crime Bill included an emergency preamble making it effective upon enactment. Section 30 of the Crime Bill reduced the radius of a school zone from 1,000 feet to 300 feet.

Following the enactment of the Crime Bill, the defendant moved to dismiss the School Zone violation on the basis that §30 of the Crime Bill applied to all cases alleging a School Zone violation that had not been adjudicated before August 2, 2012 and that his alleged violation occurred outside the amended school zone.

The district court reported, without decision, to the Supreme Judicial Court the question of whether §30 of the Crime Bill could be applied retroactively to an offense that occurred prior to the effective date of the amendment, but which the charge for which had not been adjudicated on that date? The Supreme Judicial Court answered "yes" holding that §30 "applies to all cases alleging a school zone violation for which a guilty plea had not been accepted or a conviction entered as of August 2, 2012, regardless of whether the alleged violation was committed" prior to that date.

The Court held that the prospective application of §30 was repugnant to the context and purpose of the statute since the purpose behind the amendment was to remedy an overbroad law with a disparate impact on minority and urban communities. While the legislative purpose behind the enactment of School Zone legislation was to protect school children from drug dealers, in practice, the 1,000 foot School Zone was found to be overbroad, especially in urban areas, where schools are more numerous. This overbreadth and disparate impact was the impetus for §30.

The Court stated that it would be "repugnant to the context [that] the statute to apply the amendment to §30 ... prospectively and prolong the unfair disparate impact that the preamendment [statute] was having on urban and minority residents....Prospective application ... affects more than the individuals charged with school zone violations; it affects all urban communities by subjecting to a greater likelihood of a school zone sentencing enhancement than residents in suburban and rural communities."

The Court recognized that retroactive application creates its own set of disparities, but stated that "if the price of avoiding it is to prolong the unfair disparate impact on urban communities in matters of sentencing by declining to apply §30 retroactively, we think the price is too high."

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