In a recent opinion, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued a ruling analyzing sentencing enhancements in crimes committed while in possession of a firearm. The underlying case involved a defendant who was tried and convicted of two counts of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. The defendant was also tried under a Massachusetts law that provides enhanced penalties for those who commit crimes while in possession of a firearm. The statute specifically states that an individual who is found to have committed a crime punishable by imprisonment in state prison while in possession of a firearm must receive at least five years imprisonment in addition to the penalty for the underlying offense. The defendant appealed his conviction under this statute.
The defendant argued that his enhanced penalty could not be based on his underlying convictions for assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. The defendant argued that doing so was contrary to legislative intent and violated principles of double jeopardy. However, the court rejected his argument and denied his appeal. Speaking to legislative intent, the court noted that nothing within the statute prevented the Commonwealth from relying on the defendant’s specific underlying convictions. The court also interpreted the statute as intending to be used exactly as it had been in this case: to create an independent crime punishable by a separate sentence required to be served in addition to the underlying offense.
The court also stated that the defendant’s conviction and sentence did not violate the principles of double jeopardy. The prohibition against double jeopardy protects a person from being punished or tried twice for the same crime. In reaching its conclusion, the court pointed out that the statute creates a separate crime from the underlying root felony. Because the statute creates an entirely different crime from the underlying offense, a separate conviction and sentence do not violate principles of double jeopardy.