The Massachusetts SJC will soon release a decision that could have a major impact on how addiction and drug offenses are treated in Court. The case of Commonwealth v. Julie Eldred involves a very common situation that occurs in the district courts. The defendant agreed to a plea on the charge of Larceny over $ 250.00; as part of that plea, the defendant was to remain drug free with random screens. The defendant received a CWOF or continuance without a finding which is technically not a criminal conviction in Massachusetts.
The defendant tested positive for fentanyl; the judge in the Concord District Court detained the defendant until she could find a bed in an in-patient treatment, pending a final violation hearing. At the final violation hearing, the defense filed a motion to change the condition of probation to remove drug free, arguing the the defendant because of her addiction could not comply with that condition. The district court judge reported the question to the appeals courts, and the SJC accepted the case for direct appellate review.
The defense argued that the court cannot impose conditions designed for someone to fail. This reasoning is derived from the case of Commonwealth v. Henry, 475 Mass. 117 (2016) where the SJC held that the court must address someone’s ability to pay before ordering restitution as a condition of probation.