Law enforcement agencies often coordinate major efforts in operations targeting hot-button issues. When they make arrests and file charges as a result of these operations, they may bask in the headlines for a news cycle before moving on, but the challenges for those accused of these crimes are just beginning.
Recently, two investigations were launched by federal officials in Massachusetts under the larger umbrella of their "Project Safe Neighborhoods Initiative." One investigation went after individuals with prior convictions for violent crimes, drug trafficking or weapons charges. The other involved undercover drug buys conducted over a two-year period. The operations were nicknamed, "Landshark" and "Nor'Easter."
Authorities from the U.S. Department of Justice as well as state and local law enforcement agencies recently announced that they had arrested 29 individuals on drug and gun charges as a result of these investigations. Many of those charged, they claimed, were considered to be among the worst violent offenders in the area. Drugs allegedly acquired from the defendants included cocaine and opiates like heroin and fentanyl.
Charges like are serious in themselves: a drug trafficking conviction can lead to a 20-year prison sentence and fines of up to $1 million. With a prior conviction, however, the maximum sentence rises to 30 years and the potential fines double. A prior conviction may also make it tougher for a judge or jury to maintain a presumption of a defendant's innocence, as required by law, since the individual has already been found guilty once before.
A robust criminal defense is every defendant's right in court, whether facing the first charge in their life or a subsequent charge. No matter how much back-slapping law enforcement officials engage in while the cameras are rolling, defendants are always entitled to a presumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.