Legal Notes: Commonwealth v. Galvin's Impact on Sentencing

The Case

In 2011, Defendant Galvin was indicted for distributing cocaine, and for being a second or subsequent offender in violation of section Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 94C, 32A(d). In 2012, before Defendant's trial had commenced, the Legislature enacted the Crime Bill. This bill amended the enhanced penalty provision of section 32A(d) by reducing the mandatory minimum sentence.

Twenty days after the Crime Bill’s enactment, Galvin was found guilty. As the Crime Bill authorized, the judge in the case imposed a mandatory minimum prison sentence. The Commonwealth requested that the judge change the sentence so it would be in compliance with sentencing provisions as they existed on the date the offense was committed.

The judge denied the Commonwealth’s request, having concluded that the Crime Bill’s sentencing reductions applied to persons sentenced after the effective date of the new act, regardless of whether the offense was committed prior to that effective date.

The Supreme Court denied the Commonwealth's petition for relief, reasoning that interpreting the statute that amended the mandatory minimum sentence in section 32A(d) to not apply to Defendant would be inconsistent with the manifest intent of the Legislature.

What It Means

In general, newly-enacted laws are not applied retroactively, but there were indications that the Crime Bill might have been intended to impact those whose offenses took place before the law was enacted.

The Galvin court looked to the words of the Legislature as an indicator of the Legislature’s intent in enacting the Crime Bill. The court stated that from reviewing all the Crime Bill’s provision, it became apparent that one of the law’s primary purposes was to significantly reduce the sentences served under the mandatory minimum provisions of a wide range of drug-related offenses, including the one at issue in Galvin.

The court inferred this purpose from the reduction of mandatory minimum sentences going forward for new offenders, and from the provision of comparable opportunities for reduction in prison time served by those already sentenced under the previous, mord harsh version of those same laws. The court decided that it would be strange, even absurd, to conclude that the Legislature intended to provide sentence reductions for everyone except the relatively small group of people who committed offenses before the amendments, but were not convicted and sentenced until after the amendments’ effective date.

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