Governor Charlie Baker filed legislation that will provide law enforcement and prosecutors with additional tools to prosecute people who repeatedly break the law. The reforms put forth in today’s legislation include expanding the list of offenses that can provide grounds for a dangerousness hearing and closing certain loopholes at the start and end of the criminal process that currently limit or prevent effective action to address legitimate safety concerns.
“Recent tragedies have demonstrated the tremendous damage that can occur when our criminal justice system fails to identify and detain dangerous people charged with serious crimes,” said Governor Baker. “The alarming frequency of these events confirmed for us that we need to fix a broken law, so we worked closely with law enforcement, district attorneys and victims advocacy groups across the Commonwealth and consulted with the courts to develop this proposal to do a better job of protecting Massachusetts communities from dangerous defendants.”
The governor’s legislation strengthens 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.
“Far too often, there are few consequences for defendants who violate the conditions of a court issued release,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito. “This legislation will empower police officers with the tools they need to protect their communities and hold until trial defendants who pose a continuing danger to our communities.”
This legislation empowers judges 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 person who is so dangerous that his or her release threatens the safety of a specific victim or of the community at large does not become safe to release merely because three or four months have passed since the time of their arrest,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Security Daniel Bennett. “This legislation would ensure that a person who a court determines is a danger or who violates his or her conditions of release is held until the time of trial or other disposition of the case, rather than being released after a defined period.”
“I’m very pleased with the governor’s proposed bail reform legislation,” said Bristol County District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III. “This will make it more difficult for the court to release dangerous defendants. Dangerous criminals should be held without bail until their cases are resolved. The public and law enforcement have a right to be protected from dangerous criminals. This legislation goes a long way towards doing that. I have long advocated for changes to the bail system, and I appreciate the governor’s leadership on this very important issue.”
“It is encouraging to see that the call for action to keep dangerous and repeat criminals off the streets that began as a result of Sgt. Gannon’s murder is being taken seriously,” said Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Frederickson. “In July the Governor signed the MPTC Training Bill and now the announcement of this proposal is another significant move that will provide needed protection for our citizens from violent criminals.”
“Regardless of whether their cases can be prosecuted, survivors of sexual violence who are respected and believed throughout the process have better health and wellness outcomes,” said Katia Santiago-Taylor, advocacy and legislative affairs manager at the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. “The first and most powerful way to do this is to ensure that survivors are informed about what is happening with their case, including timely notification when an offender is released from custody.”
The legislation expands the list of offenses which can provide grounds for a dangerousness hearing and 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.