Gov. Baker 'Dangerousness' Bill Would Expand Pretrial Detention Of Suspects

Thousands of police officers line up outside St. Mary's of the Sacred Heart Church in Hanover to pay their respect to Officer Michael Chesna. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Thousands of police officers line up outside St. Mary's of the Sacred Heart Church in Hanover to pay their respect to Officer Michael Chesna. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Two months after a Weymouth cop was killed by a suspect out on bail, Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday planned to file legislation that would make it easier for police and the courts to detain defendants deemed a risk to their communities.

The governor's legislation would recast the state's laws governing pretrial release by expanding the list of offenses that can be used by a judge as grounds to order someone held before trial.

While administration officials say that under their bill the vast majority of defendants would continue to be released on bail, the bill would also empower police to detain someone observed violating the conditions of their release without first seeking a warrant.

"Recent tragedies have demonstrated the tremendous damage that can result when our criminal justice system fails to identify and detain dangerous people charged with serious crimes," Baker wrote in a filing letter. "The alarming frequency of these events confirms that the Commonwealth needs to do a better job of holding until trial defendants who pose a continuing danger to others."

The governor rolled out the proposal at a Thursday news conference, joined by Bristol County District Attorney Tom Quinn, Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Frederickson and Boston Area Rape Crisis Center legislative affairs manager Katia Santiago-Taylor.

Baker has been consulting with district attorneys, law enforcement and officials in the court system for more than a month about ways to improve the process for prosecutors to seek dangerousness hearings if they fear the release of a defendant will create a risk for the community.

The administration said that prosecutors can only ask a judge to hold defendants because they may pose a threat to their community under limited circumstances and procedures that make it difficult for the courts to make informed decisions.

Weymouth officer Michael Chesna was allegedly killed in July by Emanuel Lopes, who had a history of run-ins with local police and was out on $500 bail for a pending drug charge.

Lawmakers adjourned formal sessions on July 31, making it difficult to conceive how such a complex bill could be considered before law a new Legislature is seated in January, but the governor is putting down a marker as his re-election campaign against Democratic nominee Jay Gonzalez gets off the ground.

Prosecutors seeking to have a defendant held would still have to demonstrate that no conditions of release would be sufficient to ensure public safety, but, under the bill, they would be granted authority to seek a hearing at any point in a defendant's criminal proceeding and not just at the outset of the case.

The courts would also be able to consider a defendant's criminal history, and not just the pending charges against the individual, when making a decision to bail or hold a suspect, and police would be required to fingerprint anyone arrested, not just those charged with felonies.

"Our criminal justice system is only as strong as the tools provided by statute," Baker wrote in his letter to the Legislature outlining the bill. "This legislation provides a range of new tools that will make Massachusetts safer."

The bill would also create a new new felony for cutting off a court-ordered GPS device, and would instruct the courts to develop a test messaging system to remind defendants about upcoming court dates.


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