Criminal law refers to the body of law dealing with crimes, including actions from theft to murder. Criminal law differs from civil law, which is the body of law dealing with conflicts between citizens and/or businesses. This includes various issues, including personal injury from a car accident and divorce proceedings.

The basic difference between civil and criminal law is that the state brings the lawsuit in a criminal proceeding, whereas an ordinary private person or business initiates the lawsuit in a civil case. Penalties also differ significantly in civil and criminal cases. Criminal defendants found guilty can be sentenced to jail or prison, receive probation, or may be ordered to pay court fines.

If a plaintiff wins a civil lawsuit, they generally receive monetary damages. Injunctions and orders are also possible outcomes in civil lawsuits. In family court cases, the distribution of marital assets, child custody, and child support are often disputed. Probate is another branch of civil law. It concerns wills and the estates of people who have passed away and how their assets should be distributed.

By way of example, take the crime of assault. Assault is a crime in which the perpetrator creates a reasonable apprehension of harm in another person. For example, the perpetrator may stand close to a person and threaten to hit them with an object they are holding. The criminal approach to assault includes treating it like an attempted battery that can result in jail time, depending on the circumstances.

However, people can also file civil lawsuits for civil assault and civil battery in all states. The approach here is different because the victim seeks monetary damages from the defendant based on the defendant’s wrongful conduct.

The defendant might also be prosecuted criminally for criminal assault or criminal battery, even if the victim files a civil lawsuit seeking damages against them. They would then be subject to criminal punishment if found guilty. But that is not the goal of a lawsuit brought by the victim for civil assault or battery.

Each state in the U.S. has its own criminal laws, and the federal government also has a criminal code. Likewise, both state and federal governments have civil laws. Each state and the federal government also have their own court systems.

What Are Some Unique Crimes in Massachusetts?

Every state has its own set of criminal laws. Each has unique features, but they also have much in common. Legal conduct in one state may well be considered illegal in another. The elements of crimes and their punishment can also vary between the states. Massachusetts is one state that has a few peculiar laws that many other states do not have.

For example, selling stink bombs is illegal in Massachusetts. So is organizing or participating in a hazing ritual, as well as failing to report knowledge of a hazing ritual. These are actions that are not considered crimes in several other states.

Forty-four of the 50 states in the U.S. have anti-hazing laws. How strong and comprehensive they are varies quite a bit. Some statutes address hazing only as a crime associated with colleges, universities, or fraternities, while anti-hazing laws in other states are stronger and more comprehensive. The criminal law in some states does not criminalize hazing at all.

In Massachusetts, the law defines criminal hazing as conduct for initiating a person into any student organization, whether it is done on public or private property.

The state of Massachusetts prohibits hunting with airbows, arrow guns, or any device that propels an arrow, dart, or bolt through the use of gunpowder, compressed air, or by any other means other than the flexing and release of a bowstring. Poisoned arrows are also prohibited for use in hunting in Massachusetts.

Turning to more violent crimes, Massachusetts outlaws dueling and prizefighting. If a person kills another person in the course of a duel, the one who has killed their opponent may be guilty of murder.

The criminal statutes in Massachusetts also distinguish between assault and battery conducted to collect a loan from general assault and battery. Each of these is considered a separate crime and carries its own unique penalties.

All of this demonstrates the importance of knowing what is considered a crime in a person’s state. This is especially critical for people who may have moved recently from another state. For example, say a weapons dealer previously lived in a state where selling arrowheads was legal. They must become familiar with Massachusetts hunting laws to avoid criminal charges and punishment.

What Punishments Can a Person Face for a Criminal Conviction in Massachusetts?

As with every state, Massachusetts handles criminal punishment on its own terms. For example, this state allowed capital punishment from the 1600s up until 1984, when it was abandoned. There have been several attempts to reinstate capital punishment in Massachusetts, but none have succeeded. However, if a crime occurs in Massachusetts that falls under federal jurisdiction, the defendant can still face capital punishment if a federal court imposes that punishment per federal law.

Another interesting thing about criminal punishment in Massachusetts concerns the rights of criminals after they are released from prison. Felons lose their right to vote while imprisoned, but their voting rights are automatically restored to them after they are released. It is interesting to note that prison inmates in Massachusetts could vote while incarcerated up until the year 2000. Some politicians have tried to reinstate the voting rights of prison inmates. Only 2 other states allow inmates to vote, Maine and Vermont.

Are Jail and Prison Populations in Massachusetts Going Up or Down?

Since 1970, the total jail population in Massachusetts has increased by 403%. In 2015, people detained before their criminal trials were 54% of the total jail population in the state. Between 1983 and 2018, the prison population increased 82%. Since 2000, it has declined by about 20%.

Massachusetts may be unique in that some representatives in the state legislature proposed a bill in the spring of 2023 that would establish a bone marrow and organ donation program for people who are inmates in Massachusetts state prisons.

The proposed legislation provides that prison Inmates would be eligible for a sentence reduction of 60 days to a year of their prison sentences if they were to donate an organ or bone marrow for medical treatment purposes. This proposal appears to be unique to Massachusetts.

What is Legal in Massachusetts but Illegal in Other States?

The state of Massachusetts also deems certain things legal that are illegal in other states. In 2008, medical marijuana became legal in Massachusetts. It is currently one of 33 states (and the District of Columbia) that have legalized medical marijuana.

In 2016, Massachusetts also made recreational marijuana legal for adults age 21, although use is still regulated. It is currently one of 11 states that have legalized recreational marijuana to date.

Both recreational and medical marijuana use is subject to regulation in Massachusetts. The state has liberal laws regarding growing marijuana at home. An adult is allowed to cultivate up to 12 marijuana plants for two or more people per home. An adult is also allowed to have up to 10 ounces of marijuana at home and up to 1 ounce in public.

Do I Need a Lawyer If I Committed a Crime in Massachusetts?

Whether or not you live in Massachusetts, if you are facing charges for a crime committed in the state, you should seek advice from a local Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer. A local lawyer will be the most familiar with Massachusetts laws and its court system. This will help provide you with the best strategy and defense for your unique situation.