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New England News

Springfield Mayor To Seek Change In State Bail Law

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The mayors of two western Massachusetts cities are calling for reform of the state’s bail laws when it comes to detaining people accused of violent crimes.   The Hampden District Attorney’s office plans to use more so-called dangerousness hearings in gun cases in a bid to hold defendants without bail.

Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, who has voiced frustration over the release of violent criminals back out to the streets sometimes within days of their arrests, said he will seek a legislative solution. Sarno said he will propose a bill to give prosecutors the right to appeal bail rulings.

"Not only do you have to comment on the frustration that I and the public feel, but you have to be constructive."

Sarno announced plans to have bail reform legislation drafted after consulting last week with officials from the city’s law department, the Hampden County District Attorney’s office and Springfield Police Department.

Defendants in criminal cases in Massachusetts can appeal a bail ruling made by a District Court Judge during arraignment to the Superior Court and further appeal to a single justice of the State Supreme Judicial Court.  The prosecution currently has no right to appeal to seek a higher bail.

" We just want the Commonwealth to be on an equal playing field."

Sarno pointed to two recent examples where he said having prosecutors appeal bail decisions might have been beneficial.  In one, a Springfield man who was one of 22 people arrested in a major drug case earlier this year, and freed on $10,000 bail, was arrested on new drug charges by police earlier this month.

In the second case, cited by Sarno in his call for bail reform, a man accused of firing several gunshots into a home in Holyoke, where children were watching television, was released on $500 bail despite having a history of gun offenses.

"I am angry about this," said Sarno.

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse, in a statement, said he was shocked by the release on low bail of the man accused of firing multiple times into the house, saying it was “indicative of a broken court system that puts innocent lives at risk.”

Sarno said he will seek support from the city’s legislative delegation to write and introduce a bill in the legislature.

" I would like to snap my fingers and have it done immediately," said Sarno. " To me it is a no-brainer."

Assistant Hampden District Attorney Jane Montori said the office will now routinely call for pre-trial detention hearings where people arrested for gun crimes can be held for up to 90 days without bail if determined to be a danger to society.

"It is now going to be the rule that in a majority of gun cases Hampden County District Attorney James Ornstein is going to move for dangerousness," said Montori following a press conference with Mayor Sarno.

Springfield Police Commissioner John Barbieri estimated that just 2 percent of the people arrested by his department are defendants out on bail for other charges.  But he said the perception of a revolving door justice system makes people afraid to cooperate with police.

" The more people see that these violent offenders are arrested and not immediately released the level of cooperation from witnesses and victims will improve greatly."

  Barbieri said he would support any legislation that gives the police more tools to limit the mobility of people with illegal firearms and a propensity for violence.

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