An Act Relative to the Decriminalization of Minor Offenses

Summary

Massachusetts has a decriminalization law that is little known and rarely used. Section 70C of Chapter 277 allows for the decriminalization of certain misdemeanors, but only after a defendant arrives in court either at arraignment or post arraignment at a pretrial conference. The fact that the decriminalization option is available so late in the process explains why it is so seldom used. By the time a defendant has reached arraignment, there has already been an investment of time and resources in processing the defendant or preparing and issuing the complaint. And if the defendant has been arraigned, the offense has already been added to his or her criminal record.  This legislation permits a police officer to issue citations at the street level for very minor offenses, rather than seeking a criminal complaint. In order to allow for this option, misdemeanors and civil infractions need to be added to the list of infractions that can be dealt with under the civil process outlined in 21D.