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Gov. Charlie Baker, drawing a sense of urgency from a fatal car crash this summer in Cotuit and a new Supreme Judicial Court ruling, made a case Tuesday for why judges must be able to consider someone's full criminal record when deciding whether to release them before trial or hold them as a danger to society.
The Republican governor rolled out his pretrial bail reform bill at the Major City Chiefs of Police Association meeting, noting it's his first official legislative action of his second term, which began Jan. 3.
The bill mirrors a proposal the governor filed in early September, but which did not get vote in the House or Senate.
"When the criminal justice system fails to identify dangerous people who have committed serious crimes, our communities suffer," Baker said.
The bill would permit judges to consider more than just the charges before them when making the decision to release a defendant, and it would also allow police to detain someone observed in violation of their orders of release without waiting for a warrant.
"After all, it's police officers and not judges and probation officers who are on the streets monitoring what's going on every single day," Baker said.
The bill would also expand the list of offenses that can be used to hold a defendant as a dangerous person before their trial, and would permit prosecutors to seek a dangerousness hearing at any point in a criminal proceeding, not just at the outset.
In talking with police about his motivations for filing the bill, Baker leaned on a number of anecdotes, including the death of Marine Corps veteran Kevin Quinn, who was killed in a head-on car collision in Cotuit with someone fleeing police in a high-speed chase.
The driver of the other vehicle, Mickey Rivera, had been released a month before the crash after a drunk driving arrest, despite awaiting trail on separate charges connected to an armed robbery attempt and murder.
"If Mickey Rivera's criminal record had been reviewed in its totality when he was before that judge down on the Cape on that drunk driving case, I certainly think under our statute he would have been a perfect example of somebody for whom there should have been a dangerousness hearing and, at a minimum, he would have been held until that hearing took place," Baker said.
Baker said he believes "timing" is the main reason his bill didn't move last session. He filed it after the Legislature had ended formal sessions for the year, though House and Senate lawmakers did hold a committee hearing on the proposal.
"I'm hoping it was a matter of timing, and we made clear when we filed it last fall that we were concerned about timing," Baker said.
The governor's push to reform the dangerousness statutes came on the same day the Supreme Judicial Court ruled the state could not hold a suspect facing charges of statutory rape of a 15-year-old for being a danger because it was not allowed under current law.
On the other hand, the charge of forcible rape of a minor, which is distinct from the statutory rape charge, would qualify, the court found.
"Given today's result, the Legislature may choose to consider this omission with alacrity," Justice David Lowy wrote in his concurring opinion.
In the same ruling, Supreme Judicial Court ruled that use of incendiary devices alone was not necessarily sufficient grounds to hold someone as a dangerous person. The court upheld the pre-trial detention of a suspect facing incendiary device charges because they were connected to domestic abuse.
The police chiefs, who had been briefed on the legislation before the governor's arrival, stood and clapped for Baker when he finished his remarks in the conference room at the Bank New York Mellon building across the way from Wellington Station in Everett.
"This is bringing common sense back to the judicial system, and now there are no excuses," said Boston Police Commissioner William Gross.
Gross thanked the governor for refiling the bill, lamenting "too many tragedies here in the commonwealth.
"If you have to put a bracelet on them, you can't trust 'em anyway," Gross said, referring to the GPS ankle bracelets that can be used to monitor defendants' movements as they await trial.
In addition to the police chiefs, Rep. Joseph McGonagle, an Everett Democrat, and Rep. Tim Whelan, a Brewster Republican and former State Police trooper, also attended.
The governor's bill would also create a six-hour window to allow for victims of violent crimes to be notified before a defendant's release, establish a new felony for cutting off a court-ordered GPS device and allow bail commissioners to consider dangerousness when deciding whether to release an arrestee when court is out of session.
Finally, the legislation would require police to fingerprint all people arrested, regardless of the charge, and not just people arrested for felonies.
Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett applauded Baker for refiling the bill, taking issue with the SJC's ruling Tuesday around statutory rape and offering his support for expanding the list of qualifying offenses for a dangerousness hearing.
"The facts of the case describe every parent’s nightmare: the 43-year old male defendant contacted a 15-year old girl on social media and persuaded her to meet him at a hotel, where they engaged in sexual intercourse. This is the very definition of predatory behavior and poses a threat to the safety of our communities," Blodgett said in a statement.
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