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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association Endorses Baker-Polito Administration's Dangerousness Bill

Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association Endorses Baker-Polito Administration's Dangerousness Bill

BOSTON – Today, the Baker-Polito Administration is announcing that the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association (MCOPA) has endorsed the Baker-Polito Administration's recently filed An Act to Protect the Commonwealth from Dangerous Persons. The announcement was made after a meeting of MCOPA, attended by Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. ​​

"Lt. Governor Polito and I are grateful for MCOPA's support for the Administration's dangerousness legislation," said Governor Charlie Baker.  "This bill will give law enforcement and the courts additional tools needed to keep the Commonwealth's communities safe from dangerous individuals."

"We are pleased to have the support of MCOPA on this important bill," said Lt. Governor Karyn Polito. "Several recent cases have highlighted the need for action on this issue, and we look forward to working with the Legislature to pass this bill."

“On behalf of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, I would like to thank the Baker–Polito Administration for filing this important legislation," said Chief Russell Stevens, Hamilton Police and President of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association​. "Several months ago, the Mass Chiefs Joined with the rest of law enforcement in supporting this bill when it was filed last session, and we rise once again to advocate for this important legislation.  MCOPA applauds the tremendous steps this bill takes to protect the people of the Commonwealth, and we respectfully ask the Legislature to partner with the Mass Chiefs as they have done so successfully in the past to get this bill to the Governor’s desk.”

“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,” Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes. “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.”

First filed on September 6th, 2018 and re-filed on January 15, 2019, the Administration's bill 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. 

The bill will also 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.

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.

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.

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