House approves bill upping penalties for felony solicitation

Rep. David Rogers delivered his maiden speech on the House floor during Wednesday's formal session. [Courtesy: House Broadcasting]

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JUNE 22, 2016…..The Massachusetts House on Wednesday passed a bill that a House leader said the state’s highest court has been urging the Legislature to pass for decades.

The bill (H 4005) would link the penalty for solicitation of a felony crime to the penalty for committing the crime itself.

Solicitation to commit a crime is when a person seeks to involve another person in the commission of a crime. If or when the second person becomes a willing participant in the crime or its planning, both individuals could be charged with conspiracy, which carries a separate slate of penalties.

“Under our law, solicitation — no matter how serious the felony, including murder — is only a common law misdemeanor allowing for no more than two and a half years in the house of correction as a penalty,” Rep. John Fernandes, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, said. “The Supreme Judicial Court has for decades acknowledged that this is wrong and encouraged the Legislature to act. But until now we have not.”

Fernandes said the penalty for solicitation of a felony would differ based on the penalty for the underlying felony.

“For instance, for murder the penalty for solicitation is up to 20 years and so on as the categories of crimes that are felonies reduce in penalties,” he said.

Cambridge Rep. David Rogers, making his maiden speech during his fourth year in office, said the bill would fix “a major shortcoming” in the Massachusetts criminal justice system.

He said he filed the bill after Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan told him about a case in which a man put together a detailed scheme and offered a large sum of money to have his wife killed. The person he tried to hire to kill his wife was an undercover police officer.

“But because the cop didn’t have the requisite mental state, the intent to kill, he could only be charged with solicitation, not conspiracy, and solicitation only carries two and a half years,” Rogers said. “This guy had hatched an elaborate plan to kill his wife and only faced two and a half years. And while I may come from a liberal district, I’m not an ideologue and it’s an outrage that he only faced two and a half years.”

The bill passed the House unanimously and now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

Copyright 2016 State House News Service

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