Standing alongside Chief Brian Kyes, Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday re-filed legislation to provide law enforcement and the courts with additional tools to ensure dangerous criminals are held in custody pending trial.
First filed on September 6, 2018, the proposal would expand the list of offenses that can provide grounds for a dangerousness hearing and close certain loopholes at the start and end of the criminal process that currently limit or prevent effective action to address legitimate safety concerns. Governor Baker made the announcement in Everett at the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police Association Meeting, an Association Chief Kyes is the leader of.
“Public safety is a fundamental responsibility of government and in order to fulfill that duty, we must allow local police and district attorneys to effectively deal with people who repeatedly break the law,” said Governor Baker. “Last session we enacted several provisions to ensure that a small lapse in judgment doesn’t ruin a life, and we must now give law enforcement, prosecutors and the courts the tools they need to keep our communities safe. We look forward to working with the Legislature to pass this important bill.”
The proposal will strengthen the ability of judges to enforce the conditions of pre-trial release by empowering police to detain people who they observe violating court-ordered release conditions; current law does not allow this, and instead requires a court to first issue a warrant.
“Loopholes in the current system limit or prevent effective action to address legitimate safety concerns,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “This bill will empower law enforcement with the flexibility and tools they need to protect their communities from dangerous defendants.”
Under this proposal, judges will be empowered to revoke a person’s release when the offender has violated a court-ordered condition, such as an order to stay away from a victim, or from a public playground. Current law requires an additional finding of dangerousness before release may be revoked.
“A defendant’s past criminal history should absolutely be considered as a factor at any such dangerousness hearing rather than just the alleged crime that is currently before the court,” said Kyes, Chelsea Police Chief and President of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs. “It is essential that in conducting a proper risk analysis in order to determine whether the defendant is to be considered a potential danger to any victim, witness or to the public in general, that their past criminal history – especially as it pertains to previous convictions for violent crimes – is considered and weighed based on its relevancy pertaining to a demonstrated propensity to commit violence. This bill will rectify the existing gap that currently occurs during a dangerousness hearing.”
The legislation also expands the list of offenses which can provide grounds for a dangerousness hearing including crimes of sexual abuse and crimes of threatened or potential violence. It also follows the long-standing federal model in including a defendant’s history of serious criminal convictions as grounds that may warrant a dangerousness hearing. Current law requires courts to focus only on the crime charged and ignore a defendant’s criminal history when determining whether the defendant may be the subject of this sort of hearing.
Additional provisions of this legislation:
•Improves the system for notifying victims of crimes of abuse and other dangerous crimes when a defendant is going to be released by creating clear lines of responsibility among police, prosecutors and corrections personnel to notify victims about an offender’s imminent release from custody, and create a six-hour window for authorities to inform a victim before an offender is allowed to be released.
•Creates a new felony offense for cutting off a court-ordered GPS device.
•Requires that the courts develop a text message service to remind defendants of upcoming court dates, reducing the chance they will forget and have a warrant issued for their arrest.
•Allows dangerousness hearings at any point during a criminal proceeding, rather than requiring a prosecutor to either seek a hearing immediately or forfeit that ability entirely, even if circumstances later arise indicating that the defendant poses a serious risk to the community.
•Requires that the probation department, bail commissioners and bail magistrates notify authorities who can take remedial action when a person who is on pre-trial release commits a new offense anywhere in the Commonwealth or elsewhere.
•Creates a level playing field for appeals of district court release decisions to the superior court by allowing appeals by prosecutors, in addition to defendants, and giving more deference to determinations made in the first instance by our district court judges.
•Creates a task force to recommend adding information to criminal records so that prosecutors and judges can make more informed recommendations and decisions about conditions of release and possible detention on grounds of dangerousness.
The legislation also closes loopholes at the start and end of the criminal process that currently limit or prevent effective action to address legitimate safety concerns. It extends the requirement that police take the fingerprints of people arrested for felonies to all people arrested, regardless of the charge, to ensure that decisions about release can be made with knowledge of a person’s true identity and full criminal history. It also allows, for the first time, bail commissioners and bail magistrates to consider dangerousness in deciding whether to release an arrestee from a police station when court is out of session.