A Salem, Massachusetts, A Teenage Life Is Forever Altered By Drug Charges

This week, we start our daily blog with an eye toward the north shore, where, according to the Salem News, last fall, Christopher Al-Nabulsi was a star at Salem High School. At 17, he was captain of the football and lacrosse teams, played basketball and was a peer mentor. And then he made a mistake which many assume would simply get him a “slap on the wrist”.

It Didn’t.

In December, a 15-year-old schoolmate paid Christopher $15 for a bag of marijuana. She then informed the school officials of the transaction. They confronted him and he confessed. They then searched his backpack and found three more packets of marijuana. He was arrested and expelled from school. He was also charged with two counts of possession with intent to distribute in a school zone, each bringing a 2 year mandatory jail sentence (apart from the other charges which Christopher also faced).

Last week, Christopher, who had no prior record, pleaded guilty in Salem District Court to charges of possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute and received a suspended 2 ½ -year jail sentence and two years of probation. Violating any condition of his probation, including an order that he stay away from Salem High School, would result in facing the entire 2 ½ years in jail. Under Massachusetts law, such a violation is also caused by being accused of any additional criminal conduct. For example, if Christopher were to anger the wrong person or be at the wrong place/wrong time, the mere resulting arrest will be enough to send him to jail for the 2 ½ years…regardless of what happens down the road with the new charges. Despite being “presumed innocent” of these new charges, Christopher will await his day in court regarding them in jail.

According to Christopher’s attorney, The reason Christopher took the deal, was that the prosecutor agreed to drop the two school zone counts. He also said, “The entire school community has turned their back on him,” For example, when Christopher’s former football coach wanted to write a letter of support for the teen, he was told by school officials that he could not do so. Christopher lost contact with former friends and teachers, especially since he will be violated on his probation should he go near the school.

“The school abandoned a 17-year-old boy,” the lawyer said. “It’s been devastating and will have ramifications for years to come.”

Sam’s take:

Regardless of your level of sympathy for Christopher, this is a cautionary tale which debunks many misconceptions which are well worth noting, especially as we start the new school year.

Whatever your view about marihuana, the possession of it is illegal. Secondly, the sharing, giving or selling of it is “distribution” under Massachusetts law and is treated harshly, as with other drug cases. In this case, a 17 year old kid with a clean record faced up to four years in minimum mandatory sentences over and above the potential jail terms which he faced for the charges that had discretionary sentences. Let me put that in a less “lawyer-like” way. Had he exercised his Constitutional right to a trial, and was found guilty, the judge would have had no legal choice but to sentence him to at least four years in jail. After that four years (minimum), he would have had the pleasure of restarting his life…four years further into adulthood with a criminal record, the label “drug dealer” and a curtailed education.

Any drug case, no matter how much one argues it to be a kid’s “stupid mistake”, must be considered serious and potentially life-altering. The fact that youth brings with it a certain lack of judgment at times is a consideration that has long since left the halls of the Justice System. The same is true with any consideration for “manning up” and admitting to the crime as Christopher did. Unfortunately, such honesty, while perhaps good for the soul, is bad for the criminal record.

If you even suspect you may be facing drug charges, whatever your opinion about your chance of being convicted or that it is simply “no big deal”, it is best to get an experienced attorney at the earliest moment if you have any interest in improving your chances in the halls of justice.

Samuel Goldberg is the senior criminal defense attorney at the firm of Altman & Altman, P.C. A former prosecutor in New York, he has worked as a defense attorney in Boston over 18 years. He frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network
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