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Mass. Domestic Violence Bill Unveiled

BOSTON — Bail for domestic battery suspects would be delayed and the penalties they face toughened under a bill introduced at the State House on Tuesday that also requires judges to undergo more training around domestic violence issues.

Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, and state Attorney General Martha Coakley together directed the crafting of the legislation. They said it was spurred by the case involving Jared Remy, who’s charged with fatally stabbing his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel. Remy, the son of Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy, has pleaded not guilty.

Jared Remy, during his arraignment on murder and assault charges in the death of his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel. (Ted Fitzgerald/Boston Herald/AP, Pool)

Jared Remy, during his arraignment on murder and assault charges in the death of his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel. (Ted Fitzgerald/Boston Herald/AP, Pool)

“I would be pretty much surprised if the Jared Remys of the world were to be allowed to walk as they have in the past,” DeLeo said.

Remy’s arrest came one day after he was released from custody on charges of assaulting Martel, and the case prompted questions about whether Remy’s history of domestic violence was overlooked or if he’d been treated too leniently by the criminal justice system in the past.

DeLeo said an abuser’s behavior often foreshadows horrific acts of violence.

“There are indicators. There are patterns,” he said. “As so many folks I talked to in preparing the bill said, it is preventable.”

Coakley, a Democratic candidate for governor, called the Remy case “emblematic” of many domestic violence issues.

“I think that this bill, for the first time in a long time, will educate judges, give prosecutors better tools [and] hold them accountable for the decisions they make,” Coakley said.

She said she hopes the focus will shift to holding batterers accountable, rather than merely helping victims leave their homes to hide.

New categories of domestic crimes, with increased penalties, would be created under the measure, including the specific crimes of strangulation and suffocation. Statistically, such actions point to the probability of a homicide in the future, Coakley and DeLeo said.

Under the legislation, judges making decisions on bail or sentencing would have uniform access to all available information about a defendant, including prior charges and past restraining orders. DeLeo suggested that if judges had known more about Remy’s past record, it might have made a difference in the outcome.

The bill would also require that a battery suspect be kept in custody for at least six hours after an arrest before being released on bail, to allow time for a safety plan to be developed for the accuser. If bail is granted, it must be accompanied by a written assessment of the safety risks posed by a defendant’s release.

“It is my plan to bring this before the House next week, and I am confident that we are going to have this passed,” DeLeo said.

Several of the state’s district attorneys came to the Statehouse to support the bill, as did representatives of organizations that advocate for abused women.

Risa Mednick, executive director of Transition House, a shelter and support service for domestic violence victims, said women often lack confidence in the ability of the system to protect them.

“Oftentimes people go it alone, and that unfortunately was the case with Jennifer Martel, that she wasn’t connected to a service provider in her community,” said Mednick.

Paul Dacier, president of the Boston Bar Association, said the lawyers’ group planned to study the bill and work with lawmakers to “improve the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence.”

With reporting by the Associated Press and the WBUR Newsroom.

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  • Joe Silva

    Susan, I couldn’t have said that better. Besides, no ammount of law will prevent a man with a knife (or any other gun) to kill his partner. We have enough laws in the books to deal with those crimes. Gawd, those politicians will do just about anything to get elected.

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