Reacting to several recent tragedies where criminal defendants killed police officers and innocent civilians while they were free on bail before trial, Gov. Charlie Baker filed legislation last Thursday that would make it easier for judges to keep in jail dangerous defendants that are charged with felony offenses.
Baker’s bill largely focuses on the state’s “Dangerousness Statute”, M.G.L. Ch. 276 Sec. 58A, which allows District Attorneys to request a “Dangerousness Hearing” where prosecutors ask a judge to hold a defendant in custody while that defendant awaits trial, instead of releasing the defendant.
Under the governor’s proposal, the list of crimes that trigger the prosecution’s right to a dangerousness hearing would be expanded to include assault and battery against a police officer, several additional sex crimes, as well as human trafficking. Another important change the bill proposes, is that judges would not be prohibited, as they are now, from taking into account a defendant’s criminal history when making his or her ruling on the issue of a defendant’s dangerousness. That’s a major change. In addition, prosecutors would be allowed to seek a dangerousness hearing at any stage during a criminal case. Presently, if the prosecution wants to requests a dangerousness hearing, it can only do so only at the defendant’s arraignment, not later – so it has only one chance to ask a judge to hold a defendant in jail before trial. The governor’s bill would expand that ability. Continue reading