Governor Charlie Baker signed legislation reforming a considerable amount of important laws in the Massachusetts criminal justice system this past April. So, how have those changes been going, on a day-to-day basis in the courts? At only 90 days out from the bill’s signing, it’s a little hard to say, but here’s a quick review of how the principal changes will affect day-to-day prosecutions in Massachusetts courts.
This is one of the more controversial aspects of the bill Gov. Baker signed. Historically, when a prosecutor requested bail, a judge was required to take into consideration over a dozen separate factors in setting bail, partially including:
- The Nature and Circumstances of the Offense: How serious is it?
- Family Ties. Does the defendant have any?
- Length Of Residence. This is important, as a defendant who’s been living in Massachusetts for many years is much more likely to not ‘jump bail,’ than is someone who has no residence here..
- Prior Court Defaults. Has the defendant ‘skipped bail’ previously?
One thing that a judge was never required to consider, though, was a defendant’s ability to pay. Now, the new law requires that judges take into consideration the defendant’s ability to pay a given amount of bail – and furthermore, the judge is now required to justify in writing instances where bail is set high enough to prevent a defendant’s release. That provision in the bail reform provision of the criminal justice reform bill, was triggered principally by an August 2017 ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court that ordered lower judges to consider a defendant’s ability to pay a given amount of bail. That decision angered more conservative members of the Legislature and the public, and I can understand why. Continue reading