Tracknum: 8513.e8.af0b2a6.271516e9
Pubdate: Sun, 8 Oct 2000
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2000 The Eagle-Tribune
Contact:  P.O. Box 100 Lawrence, MA 01842
Fax: (978) 687-6045
Author: Taylor Armerding
Bookmark: (Massachusetts clippings)


If there is to be any seismic shift in the War on Drugs in Massachusetts 
sometime in the near future, it will probably come directly from voters, 
rather than their elected or appointed representatives.

Question 8, an initiative petition on the November ballot, asks voters to 
change the current laws on drug-crime fines and forfeitures, first by 
making it more difficult for authorities to seize property or assets 
allegedly used in drug crimes, and second, by requiring that assets 
properly seized be used for drug treatment, rather than more enforcement.

Nancy Drew, a former addict from Haverhill, says 'curiosity got the best of 
me,' then she was hooked. She now suffers from kidney and liver disease. 
Under current law, authorities can seize private property before its owner 
has been convicted of any crime. The burden of proof is then on the 
property owner to show that the property was not involved in a drug-related 
crime. The proposed legislation would shift that burden of proof to the 
government, eliminating a "guilty until proven innocent" situation, 
according to its backers.

The proposal would also create a Drug Treatment Trust Fund, controlled by 
the Legislature, to be used "solely for the treatment of drug-dependent 
persons," according to a summary of the ballot question by the Secretary of 
State's office.

The initiative has produced a fierce battle among some somewhat unlikely 

The Coalition for Fair Treatment, which backs Question 8, includes the 
usual collection of civil-liberties and public-health types. But also on 
board are high-profile prosecutors like former Attorneys General Scott 
Harshbarger, Francis X. Bellotti and James M. Shannon. On the other side 
are all 11 district attorneys in the state, along with the Massachusetts 
Chiefs of Police Association.

According to opponents, the only people the change in the law would benefit 
are drug dealers. Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley, president of 
the statewide district attorneys association, contends that it would allow 
dealers to repeatedly avoid prosecution by claiming they are 
drug-dependent. And there is a money issue here as well. If all those 
assets seized under current law go to treatment, they won't be going to 
police departments any more.

"That (money) is what really funds enforcement," says Andover Police Chief 
Brian Pattullo. "Without that, you're going to see enforcement diminish."

Ms. Coakley also argues that the law is a step toward decriminalizing 
drugs, because it "gives judges unlimited discretion to dismiss charges 
against repeat drug dealers ... following treatment, leaving them with no 
criminal record."

And state Sen. James P. Jajuga, D-Methuen, who was a state trooper for 20 
years, most of them spent fighting drug crime, contends that the language 
of the proposed law is broad enough to allow major traffickers to avoid 
prison sentences. "It says you're eligible for a treatment program if you 
are at 'significant risk' of becoming an abuser," he says. "You can just 
imagine what defense attorneys will do with that. They'll say that Johnny 
failed the MCAS, turned to selling heroin because he felt he had no value, 
and is at significant risk of becoming a drug abuser."

Sen. Jajuga says he is a firm believer in more and better treatment. But he 
also says if treatment programs depend on funding from property seizures, 
the funding will not be consistent. "You could get $1 million one year, $5 
million the next and $100,000 the year after that. You can't treat 
(addicts) that way."

And he contends that law enforcement desperately needs the money from 
seizures to be able to fight its way "up the food chain" of drug dealing. 
Most of the time, he says, the chain leads from a street corner, to a 
private home, to New York City. If the seizure money goes away, "we'll be 
going in the wrong direction," he says.

The Coalition for Fair Treatment dismisses those arguments, contending that 
the district attorneys themselves have emasculated the mandatory minimum 
sentencing rules by allowing offenders to "routinely plea bargain down to 
offenses without mandatory minimums."

Beyond that, the Coalition contends that:

Judges say they rarely see "drug kingpins" in their courts, because the 
district attorneys allow the big-time dealers to use their assets to 
plea-bargain their way out of sentencing.

There is no accountability for how forfeited property is used. According to 
one study by a Boston newspaper, up to 60 percent of the funds seized in 
drug cases was not spent on drug enforcement.

Drug treatment works better than incarceration. The Coalition points to a 
study by the state Department of Public Health that it says demonstrates 
that. There are, however, some caveats in its conclusions. The study 
reportedly showed that nine of 10 people who complete drug treatment in a 
treatment setting are arrest-free for the year after their court appearance 
(emphasis added). Of course, that course of treatment could last six 
months. But the group says the recidivism rate for those incarcerated is 80