The Massachusetts Legislature regularly enacts criminal penalty increases.

Legislators respond with the tools that they have to public concerns and to troubling events.  One can see, in the list of major criminal law enactments below, the history of punitive responses to recurring waves of legitimate public concern about drunk driving, drugs, guns, domestic violence, youth violence, sex offenses and crimes against the elderly.

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Major Enactments altering Penalties for Crimes in Massachusetts: 1970 - 2015

YearChapterTitleDescriptionLaw Area
1957660An Act Relative to the Sale Possession and Distribution of Narcotic DrugsIncludes mandatories for heroin second offense -- stiffer than currrentDrug
19711071An Act Providing for the Regulation of Drugs and Controlled SubstancesCreates current class structure and heavy second offense mandatoriesDrug
1974649An Act Requiring Minimum Mandatory Jail Sentence Of One Year, Without Suspension, Probation Or Parole, For The Unlicensed Or Unauthorized Carrying Of Firearms, Rifles Or Shotguns, Loaded Or Unloaded, And Strengthening The Laws Related Thereto. New regulatory scheme and increased penaltiesGun Violence
1978447An Act Providing Certain Temporary Protection for Persons Suffering AbuseCreates Chapter 209A restraining order structureDomestic violence
1980436An Act to Increase the Penalties for Manufacture, Distribution and Dispensing of Class A and Class B Controlled Substnaces and to Limit Parole Eligibility for Certain Drug Related ViolationsCreates trafficking penalty structureDrug
1980459An Act Providing Graduated Penalties And Victim Compensation For The Crime Of Rape And Related Offenses.Graduate and stiffen higher end penalties for sex offensesSex
1980463An Act Facilitating The Investigation And Prosecution Of The Theft Of Motor Vehicles And Of Fraudulent Motor Vehicles Insurance Claims.Increased penalties and tightened proceduresAuto Theft
1981678An Act Providing Mandatory Minimum Sentences Of Imprisonment For Repeat Offenders Convicted Of Certain Violent Crimes Committed Against Persons Sixty-Five Years Or OlderNew aggravated offense definitions and increased penalties for various assaultive offensesViolence against Elderly
1982373An Act Increasing the Penalties for Operating a Motor Vehicle under the Influence of Intoxicating LiquorsIncreased penaltiesOUI
1982650An Act Further Regulating the Distribution of Controlled SubstancesRaises trafficking penaltiesDrug
1983571An Act Further Regulating the Distribution of Controlled SubstancesTightens penalty language in 1982, c. 650Drug
1983678An Act Relative to the Prevention of Family AbuseStrengthens Chapter 209A; adds criminal penalties for violation of restraining orderDomestic violence
1986620An Act Relative to Improving Safety on the Highways and Roads of the CommonwealthIncreased penaltiesOUI
1988124An Act Increasing the Penalties for Trafficking CocaineLower trafficking weights for cocaine (and raise penalties)Drug
1989227An Act Providing for Drug Free School ZonesCreated school zone statuteDrug
1992396An Act Providing for a Mandatory Term of Imprisonment for Certain Drug OffensesLower trafficking weights for heroin (and raise penalties)Drug
1993432An Act To Promote The Effective Management Of The Criminal Justice System Through Truth-In SentencingStandardize state prison sentences as minimum and maximum at face value (no early parole, no statutory good time, no reformatory sentences, no state prison split sentences)Truth in Sentencing
199425An Act Increasing the Penalties for Operating a Motor Vehicle under the Influence of AlcoholExtended lookback period and increased penaltiesOUI
1995297An Act Relative To The Assault, Abuse, Neglect And Financial Exploitation Of An Elderly Or Disabled PersonNew aggravated offense definitions for various offenses; lower age to 60Violence against Elderly
1996200An Act To Provide For The Prosecution Of Violent Juvenile Offenders In The Criminal Courts Of The CommonwealthAllows offenders 14 and up to be tried as adultsViolent youth
1996239An Act Relative To Sex Offender Registration And Community Notification.Creates Sex Offender Registry BoardSex
1998180An Act Relative To Gun Control In The CommonwealthNew aggravated offense definitions for various assaultive offenses if involve firearms as part of comprehensive gun regulationGun Violence
200235An Act Relative to the Crimes of Assault and Battery and Assault and Battery by Means of a Dangerous WeaponNew aggravated assault definitions and increased penaltiesDomestic violence
2002302An Act Relative To Repeat Offenders Of The Crime Of Operating A Motor Vehicle Under The Influence Of AlcoholLifetime lookback for counting prior offensesOUI
2005122An Act Increasing Penalties for Drunk Drivers in the CommonwealthComprehensive mandatory minimum penalty IncreasesOUI
2006303An Act Increasing the Statute of Limitations for Sexual Crimes against ChildrenAlso tightens SORB registration requirements and penalties.Sex
2008205An Act Further Protecting ChildrenNew aggravated offense definitions and increased penalties for sex offensesSex
2008387An Act Establishing a Sensible State Marihuana PolicyDecriminalize marihuanaDrug
2010256An Act Reforming The Administrative Procedures Relative to Criminal Offender Record Information and Pre- and Post-Trial Supervised ReleaseIntroduced parole eligibility for certain lower level dealing offensesDrug
2012192An Act Relative to Sentencing and Improving Law Enforcement ToolsReduced penalties for drug offenders -- raise weight thresholds, reduce 2d offense penalties, shrink school zones; increased penalties for habitual violent offendersDrug and Habitual Offenders
2014284An Act Relative to the Reduction of Gun ViolenceRegulatory improvement and some increased penalties for use of firearms in crimes and for regulatory violationsGun Violence
Note: This list was developed as follows: Tables from the Fiscal 2013 Survey of Sentencing Practices were provided in electronic form by the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission. Tables 45 and 46 were used to compute the person-years of incarceration (maximum sentences at either House or State Prison level) resulting from all convictions under each separate criminal provision used in Fiscal 2013. The top 50 criminal provisions ranked by person-years (accounting for 80% of all person-years) were then reviewed in Massachusetts General Laws Annotated to identify all acts passed since 1970 amending them to alter penalties. This manually intensive approach involved the potential for omissions and errors. The 1957 drug enactment is included just for completeness on the history of the drug laws.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.