With a new legislative session just underway on Beacon Hill, there is a new effort to block what some complain is a revolving door at the state’s courthouses.
Gov. Charlie Baker has re-filed legislation aimed at keeping people with violent criminal records, who are arrested for new crimes, locked up pending trial.
"Too often career criminals are arrested only to be released as soon as they appear in court," said Baker. " This sort of revolving door serves to undermine people's faith in law enforcement and the courts and it is a threat to public safety."
The legislation, originally filed last September, would expand the list of offenses that would be grounds for a dangerousness hearing where the prosecution can ask a judge to order a defendant held without bail. Additionally, it would permit judges to consider a person’s history of serious criminal convictions in determining whether to order a dangerousness hearing.
If enacted into law, police could arrest someone known to be violating a condition of their pre-trial release and not need to first seek a warrant from a court. Judges could revoke a person’s release for violating court-ordered conditions without the current requirement that an additional hearing take place.
New offenses that could trigger a dangerousness hearing include sexual abuse and crimes of threatened or potential violence.
Baker, during his second inaugural address this month, announced his intention to refile the legislation.
Since 2016, three police officers in Massachusetts have been fatally shot during encounters with people who had prior criminal charges.
A major criminal justice reform bill was passed last year by the Democratic-dominated legislature and signed by the Republican governor. Key provisions include eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for certain non-violent drug crimes, and making it easier for people who committed a minor crime before the age of 21 to have that record permanently sealed.
"Nobody wants to see somebody's life ruined over a small time lapse in judgement and the law we worked on together last year addresses many of those issues. But we still need a common sense approach that provides the system with the ability to schedule a dangerousness hearing when individuals with violent histories come before the court," said Baker.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno announced that legislation he supports, which would allow prosecutors to appeal if they believe a judge has set bail too low, has also been re-filed.
The bill was initially filed in 2015 and again in 2017. In lobbying for the legislation, Sarno has repeatedly criticized judges he accuses of setting bails he believes are too low for people arrested on gun and drug charges.
"Any of these repeat violent offenders need to be locked up, " said Sarno. "This is not fair to the residents or business community of Springfield and to our police officers whether in Springfield or through out the Commonwealth."
State Rep. Angelo Puppolo of Springfield again sponsored the bill to allow prosecutors to appeal bails.
Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni has endorsed it. The Hampden County Bar Association opposes it.