Press Release: 2019-05-15

Governor Charlie Baker Testifies Before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary

BOSTON — Today, Governor Charlie Baker joined Secretary of Public Safety and Security Thomas Turco and Undersecretary for Law Enforcement Terrence Reidy to testify before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in support of An Act to Protect the Commonwealth from Dangerous Persons. This re-filed legislation would expand the list of offenses that can provide grounds for a dangerousness hearing and close certain loopholes in the criminal process that currently limit or prevent effective action to address legitimate safety concerns.

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Good afternoon, Chairwoman Cronin, Chairman Eldridge and members of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify at today’s hearing.

“It is a fundamental responsibility of government to keep our communities safe. 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. 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.   

“Under existing statutes, prosecutors can ask a judge to hold a defendant because of the danger the defendant poses to the community only in a limited number of cases, and under a set of procedures that do not provide the district attorneys or the courts with the information they need to make fully informed decisions. 

“Judges seeking to release defendants on conditions designed to ensure compliance with our laws, are faced with the reality that these conditions are too often violated with little consequence. Police are not authorized to arrest a person who they observe violating a condition of release, and judges’ authority to order someone held for violating release conditions is unreasonably restricted.

“Today, I am here with the Secretary of Public Safety and Security Tom Turco and Undersecretary Terrence Reidy in support of an Act to Protect the Commonwealth from Dangerous Persons, House Bill 66. This bill proposes careful, commonsense updates to the Commonwealth’s current criminal statutes relating to the dangerousness of criminal defendants by redrafting the statutes that govern pretrial release in Massachusetts with a focus on empowering the judicial system to make better decisions regarding the release of potentially dangerous individuals.

“In order to meet our shared responsibility and provide the criminal justice system with the tools it needs to keep our Commonwealth safe, it is imperative that we pass this legislation quickly.

“This legislation strengthens the ability of judges to enforce conditions of pretrial release and closes loopholes that currently limit or prevent effective action to address legitimate safety concerns. 

“Specifically, this bill would ensure that a person who a court has found to be dangerous is held until the resolution of their case. Under the current law, a defendant found dangerous is released after a defined period. This makes very little sense. A person who is so dangerous that his or her release threatens the safety of a specific victim or of the community at large does not become safe to release merely because three or four months have passed since the time of arraignment. The law will continue to require proof at a hearing before a judge that no conditions of release can ensure public safety before a defendant is held pending trial.  

“Under the current dangerousness statute, the list of offenses that provide grounds for a dangerousness hearing is limited and excludes a number of very serious offenses. This law aims to close that loophole and protect those in our communities who are the most vulnerable. Examples of crimes that would now qualify for a dangerousness hearing include sex offenses involving a child, assault and battery on a disabled person and human trafficking.

“Recently, our Supreme Judicial Court held part of the current dangerousness statute to be unconstitutional. This ruling further circumscribed the ability of prosecutors to seek a dangerousness hearing, making it even more imperative to pass this legislation. For example, a recent case in Essex County involved a former Lawrence Police Officer charged with aggravated statutory rape and indecent assault and battery on a child. The prosecutors in that case attempted to have the defendant held without bail as a dangerous person but were unsuccessful given the recent SJC decision. Passage of this bill would solve this problem.    

“It is important to remember that the overwhelming majority of people charged with crimes will continue to be released. This bill does not require that anyone be detained, it simply allows a judge to consider a person’s dangerousness in more cases upon a motion by a prosecutor. If, after a full hearing, the prosecutor fails to convince a judge that a person is a danger, that person will be released, as is the case under current law.

“This legislation empowers police to detain people who they observe violating court ordered conditions of release. Current law does not allow this, and instead requires a court to first issue a warrant to bring the defendant into court. But it is our police officers, not our judges and probation officers, who are on the streets of our cities and towns, and who are in position to see and to act when offenders are violating conditions of release. This legislation expands a judge’s ability 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.

“Finally, this bill includes a provision to develop a text message service to remind defendants of upcoming court dates. It is important that we are communicating with those involved in the criminal justice system in a familiar manner consistent with modern day communications so that we can help defendants get to court and avoid unnecessary detention.

“There is much I could say about the merits of this legislation but I would like to turn it over to two individuals who have spent nearly their entire professional careers in the criminal courts of Massachusetts, Security Tom Turco and Undersecretary Terrence Reidy.”