Lawmakers Reject Patrick's Crime Bill Amendment

The Legislature on Monday soundly rejected Gov. Deval Patrick's proposed amendment to a bill barring parole for individuals convicted of three serious violent crimes, leaving the fate of the bill in doubt as the legislative session neared an end.

Patrick's so-called "safety valve" amendment, filed Saturday, would have provided judges with limited discretion to allow parole for three-time violent felons who have served two-thirds of their maximum prison sentence or 25 years of a life sentence.

The House rejected the amendment on a 132-23 vote Monday after about an hour of debate. The Senate defeated the measure later in the day.

Earlier Monday, the Democratic governor wouldn't say whether he planned to veto the bill if it returned to his desk without the amendment, but he strongly defended his proposed change.

"I'm not playing games. I want this bill done this session. There have been a lot of people working on this for a long, long time. It will be a better bill if there is judicial discretion," Patrick told reporters.

If the governor chooses to veto the bill after the close of the legislative session at midnight Tuesday, it would prevent lawmakers from taking a possible override vote.

Critics of the judicial discretion amendment said it would gut the intention of the "three strikes" provision, which is aimed at cracking down on the state's most violent career criminals.

Rep. David Linsky, D-Natick, said only the "worst of the worst" criminals — a dozen or fewer people a year — would be subject to the three strikes measure.

"In a very small number of cases, those defendants who repeatedly prey on vulnerable members of society, the parole board should not have discretion," Linsky said. "The judicial system should not have discretion."

Linsky said the bill already includes safety valves, including an automatic appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court of all cases in which parole is denied to a three-time felon.

Les Gosule, whose daughter Melissa was raped and killed in 1999 by a man who had 27 previous convictions, said Monday that the bill should be signed as it stands and that any changes or improvements should be dealt with in the next legislative session.

"How many innocent people have to get hurt?" Gosule asked. "Let's get the bill done."

Gosule has been pushing for the three strikes provision for more than a decade. Renewed calls for passage came after veteran Woburn Police Officer John Maguire was shot and killed in December 2010 by Domenic Cinelli, a career criminal who had been paroled a year earlier. Cinelli was killed by police during the shootout.

The measure has been opposed by minority groups and some religious organizations that warned it would add to prison overcrowding and disproportionately target black and Latino inmates.

"What we are doing here is saying, 'We don't trust the judiciary branch,' " said Rep. Russell Holmes, D-Boston, in arguing for the governor's amendment on Monday.

But another Boston Democrat, Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, said he made a difficult decision to break with other members of the Legislature's Black and Latino Caucus and vote against the amendment. He said the bill would let criminals know "they cannot murder, they cannot rape, they cannot pillage the community because we will not stand for it."

The crime bill includes several other provisions that Patrick supports, including a reduction in mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

This article was originally published on July 30, 2012.


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