Baker Re-Files Legislation to Hold Dangerous Criminals in Custody Pending Trial

BOSTON – Governor Charlie Baker re-filed legislation on Tuesday that aims to ensure dangerous criminals are held in custody pending trial.

The proposal, originally filed on September 6, would expand the list of offenses that can provide grounds for a dangerousness hearing. The legislation would also “close certain loopholes at the start and end of the criminal process that currently limit or prevent effective action to address legitimate safety concerns.”

Baker made the announcement in Everett on Tuesday at the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police Association Meeting.

Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Frederickson applauded Baker’s proposal.

Frederickson has been a vocal advocate for keeping dangerous criminals in custody until their trial date since 32-year-old Yarmouth Police Sergeant Sean Gannon was fatally shot while serving an arrest warrant to 29-year-old career criminal Thomas Latanowich. Latanowich had 111 prior charges on his record before shooting Gannon.

“This bill will help protect the public from repeat [offenders] or dangerous persons charged with crimes. The measures in this filing are sound and necessary to protect our citizens and Police Officers. There is urgency in passing this legislation,” said Chief Frederickson.

“For every day that this bill is not acted on is another day that we are all vulnerable to the most dangerous in society. When it comes to public safety bills, they should be taken seriously and acted on swiftly.”

Just three months later, 42-year-old Weymouth Police Officer Michael Chesna and 77-year-old Vera Adams were shot and killed by 20-year-old Emanuel Lopes on July 15 after Lopes resisted arrest by Chesna and other officers. Lopes was out on bail for a 2017 arrest for selling cocaine to a minor.

On July 28, Kevin Quinn, a 32-year-old Marine veteran from Mashpee, was killed while traveling westbound on Route 28 in Barnstable when a sedan headed in the opposite direction crashed into his GMC SUV. The driver of the other vehicle, 22-year-old Mickey Rivera, of Fall River, was leading police on a high speed pursuit before the crash. Rivera, and a female passenger, were also killed after his car split in two and caught on fire.

Rivera was due to appear in court just three days later on a series of charges in connection with a 2015 murder in Fall River, and was also facing a charge of OUI from June of 2018. Rivera had been in custody for two years on charges including armed assault with intent to rob and attempted armed robbery, but was released in September 2017 after his bail was reduced from $35,000 to $1,000.

“Public safety is a fundamental responsibility of government and in order to fulfill that duty, we must allow local police and district attorneys to effectively deal with people who repeatedly break the law,” said Baker.

“Last session we enacted several provisions to ensure that a small lapse in judgment doesn’t ruin a life, and we must now give law enforcement, prosecutors and the courts the tools they need to keep our communities safe. We look forward to working with the Legislature to pass this important bill.”

If enacted into law, the legislation would strengthen the ability of judges to enforce the conditions of pre-trial release by empowering police to detain people who they observe violating court-ordered release conditions. Currently, state law does not allow this method of detaining someone, and instead requires a court to first issue a warrant.

“Loopholes in the current system limit or prevent effective action to address legitimate safety concerns,” said Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito.

“This bill will empower law enforcement with the flexibility and tools they need to protect their communities from dangerous defendants.”

The proposal would allow for judges to revoke a person’s release when the offender has violated a court-ordered condition, such as an order to stay away from a victim, or from a public playground. Currently, state law requires an additional finding of dangerousness before release may be revoked.

Other notable provisions of the legislation includes expanding the list of offenses which can provide grounds for a dangerousness hearing in relation to crimes of sexual abuse and crimes of threatened or potential violence.

It also follows the long-standing federal model in including a defendant’s history of serious criminal convictions as grounds that may warrant a dangerousness hearing. State law currently requires courts to focus only on the crime charged and ignore a defendant’s criminal history when determining whether the defendant may be the subject to a dangerousness hearing.

The bill also aims to improve the system of notifying victims of crimes of abuse and other dangerous crimes when a defendant is going to be released. It would establish clear lines of responsibility among police, prosecutors and corrections personnel to notify victims about an offender’s imminent release from custody, and create a six-hour window for authorities to inform a victim before an offender is allowed to be released.

A new felony offense would also be established for cutting off a court-ordered GPS device.

The legislation would also require courts to develop and utilize a text message service to remind defendants of upcoming court dates, reducing the chance they will forget and have a warrant issued for their arrest.

Rather than requiring a prosecutor to either seek a hearing immediately or forfeit that ability entirely, the legislation would also allow for dangerousness hearings at any point in a criminal proceeding, even if circumstances later arise indicating that the defendant poses a serious risk to the community.

Requires that the probation department, bail commissioners and bail magistrates notify authorities who can take remedial action when a person who is on pre-trial release commits a new offense anywhere in the Commonwealth or elsewhere.

If voted into law, it would also allow for the first time, bail commissioners and bail magistrates to consider dangerousness in deciding whether to release an arrestee from a police station when court is out of session.

Lastly, the legislation would also extend the requirement placed on police to collect fingerprints of people arrested for felonies, regardless of the charge, to ensure that decisions about release can be made with knowledge of a person’s true identity and full criminal history.

“One of the most important factors in assessing whether a person is safe to release into the community is whether they have committed serious acts of violence in the past,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Security Tom Turco.

“This change in the law would allow a judge to consider the danger posed by people who have been proven to have committed serious crimes in the past, and who are now charged with a new crime. Passage of this bill will help prevent criminal defendants with a pattern of violent conduct from committing new crimes while they are pending trial.”

By TIM DUNN, CapeCod.com News Center

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