Pubdate: Fri, 25 Dec 2015
Source: Boston Herald (MA)
Copyright: 2015 The Boston Herald, Inc
Note: Prints only very short LTEs.
Author: Bob McGovern
Page: 10


A man who was busted for hiding heroin in his prosthetic leg has 
sparked the latest battle between judges and prosecutors - two 
powerful factions who are fighting over mandatory minimum sentences.

Imran Laltaprasad was convicted of possession with intent to 
distribute heroin and two counts of possession with intent to 
distribute cocaine in July. He hid the heroin in his artificial leg. 
He had been convicted of the same offenses in the past.

Under state law, sentencing should have been easy. The mandatory 
minimum sentence for the crimes is 3 1/2 years. Prosecutors asked for 
concurrent sentences of 3 1/2 to five years in state prison.

But Middlesex Superior Court Judge Shannon Frison didn't do that. 
Citing no case law, she sentenced Laltaprasad to 2 1/2 years.

"Given both the relatively small amount of contraband involved in 
this arrest and the extreme medical condition of the defendant, the 
Court will depart downward and impose a sentence of 2.5 years in the 
House of Corrections," Frison wrote.

Now the state Supreme Judicial Court will determine whether she 
handed down an illegal sentence.

The case, which is scheduled to be heard Feb. 8, brings to the 
forefront a long-standing divide between judges and prosecutors. SJC 
Chief Justice Ralph Gants and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. 
Conley have gone head-tohead on the issue. Other top prosecutors have 
sided with Conley, while some lawmakers have gone with Gants.

Conley and others believe maintaining mandatory minimums for drug 
crimes is a vital tool. During a criminal justice conference at UMass 
Boston in March, Conley said, "before mandatory minimum sentences, 
there were whole swaths of the city that many people thought were 
simply uninhabitable."

Gants struck back and said prosecutors are fighting the abolishment 
of mandatory minimums because "they do not want to relinquish to 
judges the power to impose sentences that minimum mandatory sentences 
give to prosecutors."

It's a power struggle, and the SJC is no place for decisions to be 
made on this issue. It should be up to the Legislature, which is 
already considering a bill that would abolish mandatory minimums. 
More than 60 lawmakers have already co-signed.

"I would be surprised if the Supreme Judicial Court sides with this 
judge, even though I agree with the judge in this case," said state 
Rep. Paul Heroux (D-Attleboro), who has co-sponsored the bill. 
"Nobody likes judicial activism, even if we agree with it. It's not 
the way to go."

The SJC should expect other district attorneys to weigh in on this 
case, and don't be surprised if some advocates get involved, too. A 
question squarely for lawmakers is going to be on display in the 
state's highest court.

It should impose the mandatory minimum because that's the law, for now.

And, for the sake of objectivity, Gants should step aside and allow 
his less vocal colleagues to hear the case.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom