Massachusetts court tosses teen's indictment in heroin case
May. 26, 2015
BOSTON (AP) — The state's highest court on Tuesday overturned the indictment of a teenage boy on a heroin trafficking charge, ruling it was not a violent act under the youthful offender law.
The law allows juveniles to be tried as adults in Massachusetts if the charges against them involve "infliction or threat of serious bodily harm." The Supreme Judicial Court concluded that the heroin charge didn't meet that standard and ordered the indictment dismissed.
The defendant, who was not identified because of his age, was 16 when he was arrested along with an 18-year-old companion in 2013 by Taunton police. The boy was later indicted on a charge of possession of heroin with intent to distribute, moving the case to adult court, where the penalties can be harsher than in the juvenile system.
Prosecutors argued that heroin is a highly addictive and extremely dangerous drug that can result in fatal overdoses and that the drug trade often leads to violence involving guns or other weapons.
But the justices said there was no evidence that the boy had threatened violence or had a direct connection to violent acts.
"The mere potential for serious bodily injury or death from the sale or use of heroin ... without evidence of an explicit or implied threat tied to the juvenile's conduct, is insufficient to support a youthful offender indictment," the court ruled.
The justices noted that the case was the first of its kind to come before the high court. They said while the Legislature explicitly mentioned firearms offenses in crafting the youthful offender law, it did not specifically spell out the potential harm from drug offenses.
The teenager, who was also charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, could still face the charges in juvenile court.