House OKs Rogers' bill stiffening penalty for solicitation of felonies

Dave RogersRogers

Legislation filed by state Rep. Dave Rogers aimed at properly punishing soliciting felony crimes unanimously passed the House on Wednesday, June 22.

H4005, adopted on a bipartisan basis, was an almost identical redraft of H1557, a bill by the same name filed at the beginning of the 2015/2016 legislative session by Rogers, a Democrat representing part of Arlington.

Currently in the Commonwealth, the crime of solicitation -- encouraging someone else to commit a crime -- is a misdemeanor, even when the crime being solicited is a serious felony. Solicitation to commit murder can be prosecuted only under the common-law misdemeanor crime of "solicitation of a felony," which provides for a maximum penalty of no more than 2½ years in the House of Correction.

An Act to Properly Punish the Solicitation of Felony Crimes tracks the conspiracy statute to provide appropriate penalties for solicitation based on the crime which is being solicited, a news release says.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court touched on this issue in Commonwealth v. Barsell, 424 Mass. 737 (1997), vacating the state prison sentence for conviction for solicitation to commit murder, on the grounds that solicitation is an offense at common law and thus a misdemeanor.

"The task of revising the schedule of punishments, long overdue though it may be, must be undertaken by the Legislature," the court wrote.

Action on the issue follows the recent and highly publicized case of Andrew Gordon, a North Chelmsford man arrested while trying to hire a hitman to kill both his wife and a police officer

One of the hitmen solicited proved to be an undercover police officer and Gordon was arrested shortly thereafter. Despite his actions, which many have noted are tantamount to two instances of attempted murder, his sentence was only three to five years.

In the release, Rogers said, "Although the largest share of the bills I filed this session reduce penalties and seek to lighten the footprint of a criminal justice system rife with overly burdensome mandatory minimum sentences, when a situation arises where a domestic violence abuser seeks to have his wife killed, I think we can all agree that 2.5 years in a House of Correction simply does not cut it."

The bill heads to the Senate for consideration.

This report based on a news release was published Thursday, June 23, 2016.