Jared Remy Case: How To Better Protect Massachusetts Domestic Violence Victims?

It’s happened again: A horrific murder accompanied by a celebrity/media angle. This time – Jared Remy, son of the broadcaster for the Boston Red Sox, Jerry Remy. Jared Remy, who has an arrest record involving violence against women, has been charged with stabbing to death his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel, 27, on Thursday August 15 2013 at the Waltham residence they both lived in.

Aside from the defendant’s-related-to-a-celebrity angle, the key reason that this case has generated so much media coverage revolves around the fact that Remy was released on bail after being arrested and arraigned on assault & battery charges against Ms. Martel, which are sub-elements of Massachusetts domestic violence charges. It was while Remy was on bail that he allegedly murdered Ms. Martel – by allegedly stabbing her to death. The controversy is hot because there is a Massachusetts statute that exists, which can hold domestic violence defendants in jail for up to 90 days if a judge feels that releasing the defendant on bail would pose a dangerous physical threat to the victim or others. That law, called the “Dangerousness statute,” was passed by the Massachusetts legislature in the 1990s, following the murders of several women by their male partners that had been released on bail in domestic abuse cases. The statute was intended to be a tough law that would prevent this type of tragedy.

But there’s a key requirement in the statute: The victim must be willing to help police and prosecutors make an effective, convincing argument to hold the defendant behind bars. If the victim is unwilling to do so, prosecutors rarely go forward with such a motion. The odds of persuading a judge to hold a domestic violence defendant in custody, without the cooperation or assistance of the alleged victim, is so low that DA’s offices very rarely bother trying when the victim is not willing to cooperate by testifying against the defendant. When a judge asks the prosecutor, “Is the alleged victim here to testify, or is she/he in favor of this motion?,” and the answer is “No” to either or both questions, a judge is going to be very hesitant to lock someone up.

What went wrong here? Did the system fail here? Perhaps not. But the system needs improvement. Here’s why in my opinion as a Boston domestic violence attorney, the system worked as it was intended to: From all available information that is before me presently, the following events immediately preceded Martel’s murder:

After being arrested, Remy was released without bail on that night by a bail commissioner, who and ordered to appear in court the next morning (Wednesday) on domestic violence charges. Simultaneous with Remy’s arrest that Tuesday evening, Ms. Martel was given a temporary Abuse Prevention Order (restraining order,) and Remy was ordered to stay away from Martel. The next morning, at Remy’s arraignment in Waltham District Court, Ms. Martel did not appear in court, and did not seek to extend the temporary restraining order against Remy. Prosecutors in the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office claim that they had conversations with Martel and that based on those conversations, they decided not to seek to have Remy held. This is despite the fact that Remy had an extensive criminal record involving assaults against women.

If Ms. Martel didn’t appear at Remy’s arraignment the next morning, didn’t ask prosecutors to ask that the judge hold him under the dangerousness statute, and in general did not ask for protection, then there really wouldn’t have been much that prosecutors could do to make a successful argument before a judge to have Remy held under this statute. So in this sense, the system didn’t fail here. Yet, someone is dead – and this begs the obvious question: What if anything can be done to improve this system, and provide better protection to victims of domestic violence?

There appear to be troubling aspects to the way prosecutors in the Middlesex County District Attorney’s office handled this case. Prosecutors in that office claim that they had conversations with Martel and that based on those conversations, they decided not to seek to have Remy held. This is despite the fact that Remy had an extensive criminal record involving assaults against women.

I’ll address that issue in Part Two of this post, in a couple of days.