by Jessica Lambert, MPA student
On January 15, Governor Baker re-filed An Act to Protect the Commonwealth from Dangerous Persons. This legislation was in response to the tragic police officer deaths of Yarmouth Police Officer Sean Gannon and Weymouth Police Officer Michael Chesna. Both of these officers were killed by offenders with prior criminal records, one of whom had a long history of violence. These officers’ lives would have been spared, if Massachusetts had already adopted proper criminal justice legislation with regards to dangerous individuals.
The proposed bill includes provisions impacting our current criminal justice and courts system. It empowers law enforcement and judges to make better informed decisions with regards to withholding bail for certain individuals who have a prior history of dangerous and illegal behavior. This legislation would address the fact that in Massachusetts, “prosecutors are permitted to 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” (Baker, 2018). This ties law enforcement’s hands behind their backs. District attorneys and judges are only allowed to hold individuals on the basis of dangerousness to the community in certain cases and without a full criminal history.
The Baker-Polito administration put forth a number of common sense policies to reform these processes. With regards to the court system, “this legislation expands the list of offenses which can provide grounds for a dangerousness hearing, and 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 (Baker, 2018).” It essentially allows for the court to have all the information on a defendant when deciding whether or not that individual should be released on bail. This legislation will stop dangerous individuals from re-entering society when they are a danger to their communities. “It also ensures that a person who a court determines is a danger or who violates his or her conditions of release is held until the time of trial or other disposition of the case, rather than being released after a defined period (Baker, 2018).” This will ensure that dangerous individuals are held indefinitely until they can be given a fair trial so that they don’t hurt anyone else in the interim.
With regards to law enforcement, this bill also gives the police a more concrete way to deal with probation violations and with individuals who commit felonies. For example, allowing the police to act on and arrest “a person who they observe violating a condition of release (Baker, 2018).” Under current law, police are not allowed to do this, and officers essentially watch as criminals continually violate the pre-conditions of their release without being able to take action Additionally, the legislation, “extends the requirement that police take the fingerprints of people arrested for felonies to all people arrested, 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 (Baker, 2018).” This allows law enforcement to make sure that they have the full history of a person who commits a felony to determine whether or not they are a danger to the community.
I would argue that this legislation offers common sense policies to protect the people and first-responders of the Commonwealth from dangerous individuals. Just a small amount of justice for the Gannon and Chesna families.
Baker, C. (2018). An Act to Protect the Commonwealth from Dangerous Persons. https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2018/09/06/Dangerous%20Persons%20Letter%20and%20Bill%20Text.pdf