Invalid Probationary Conditions in Massachusetts - The Fernandez Firm
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Invalid Probationary Conditions in Massachusetts

Invalid Probationary Conditions in Massachusetts

Invalid Probationary Conditions in Massachusetts


Probation is a form of alternative sentencing in all states, including the state of Massachusetts, to allow an offender to serve their sentence – in part or in full – in the community at-large.  When an offender is put on probation, the probation court imposes various supervisory conditions over the offender, some of which may be rather harsh or difficult to adhere to.


Unfortunately, when the court imposes strict probationary conditions, offenders may end up violating their probation and may be subject to additional limitations and – in some cases – may even have their probation revoked.


Massachusetts has identified several primary goals of probation: the rehabilitation of the probationer, protection of the public, punishment, deterrence, and retribution (see Commonwealth v. LaFrance).


If you are a Massachusetts offender and have violated the conditions of your probation, all is not necessarily lost.  Certain probationary conditions imposed by the court may be deemed invalid, thus freeing you from the obligation of having to adhere to the invalid conditions.


What conditions of probation are invalid in the state of Massachusetts?


The “Reasonable Relation” Test and Invalid Probationary Conditions


In Commonwealth v. Pike, the court found that the goals of probation are best served if the conditions of probation imposed are specific to the circumstances of the offender and to the nature of the crime.  Though Massachusetts courts have broad sentencing power – in fact, they can impose probationary conditions that infringe upon certain constitutional rights of the offender – this sentencing power is not unlimited.


Courts in Massachusetts cannot impose probationary conditions that are not reasonably related to the legitimate probationary goals.  This “reasonably related” limitation is what empowers offenders to identify certain probationary conditions as invalid.  If a condition of probation is not reasonably related to a legitimate probationary goal, then it will be deemed invalid.


Is It Reasonably Related?


The question, then, is whether a particular probationary condition is reasonably related to a legitimate probationary goal.  There are no simple answers, unfortunately – every condition must be assessed within the overall context of the circumstances that surround both the offender and the offense itself.


To help clarify, let’s explore some samples of potentially invalid probationary conditions and the circumstances that might justify their invalidity.


Drug Testing


A Massachusetts court cannot order an offender to submit to randomized drug or alcohol testing as a probationary condition, except or unless the offender’s circumstances justify the condition.  For example, if the offender committed a drug offense, then the probationary condition might be justified.  Alternatively, if the offender did not commit a drug offense, but had a history of drug or alcohol abuse, then the probationary condition might also be justified given the circumstances.




Like all conditions, curfew must be reasonably related to a legitimate probationary goal.  For example, suppose that you were involved in a serious brawl at a bar late at night.  In fact, it is the third such offense in a few years.  The court might find that a curfew preventing you from going out late at night will minimize the risks of you becoming intoxicated and getting into another bar brawl.


Internet Limitations


Limitations on internet use can be valid in certain circumstances, such as if the offender has a history of using the internet as a tool for committing crimes.  For example, limiting internet access to a computer hacker might be reasonably related to a legitimate probationary goal of preventing the offender from committing another related offense.  A probationary condition limiting internet access for an offender who has not made use of the internet in a criminal manner, however, may be overbroad and unreasonable.


Massachusetts courts do not have unlimited power to impose probationary conditions.  Probationary conditions may be deemed invalid if they are not reasonably related to a legitimate probationary goal.

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