AP NEWS

Baker Gets Pushback on Bill

May 16, 2019

BOSTON — Civil rights activists and advocates for people in the criminal justice system told lawmakers Tuesday that passing Gov. Charlie Baker’s bill to make it easier for police and the court system to detain defendants deemed a risk to the community would be taking a step backward from last year’s criminal justice reform effort.

The first bill Baker filed in his second term (H 66) would allow judges to consider more than just the specific charges before them when making a decision to release a defendant, expand the list of offenses that can be used to hold a defendant as a dangerous person before their trial, and would permit prosecutors to seek a dangerousness hearing at any point in a criminal proceeding, not just at the outset.

“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,” Baker told the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon.

He added, “We literally have a system now where a judge and a court have to make a decision about whether someone is dangerous based on one thing: the issue for which they are in front of the court that day. Nothing they’ve done before can become part of that conversation or that decision or that discussion. In addition to that, you can only call for a dangerousness hearing in very few instances.”

The bill mirrors legislation that Baker filed last year two months after a Weymouth cop was killed by a suspect out on bail. Baker’s proposal did not get a vote in either the House or Senate last session.

Baker said earlier this year that he believes “timing” was the main reason his bill didn’t move last session. He filed it after the Legislature had ended formal sessions for the year, though House and Senate lawmakers did hold a committee hearing on the proposal.

Rahsaan Hall, the racial justice program director for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Massachusetts chapter, said his organization opposes the governor’s bill because it has seen no evidence that suggests the specific crimes included in Baker’s bill as predicate offenses for a dangerousness hearing make a person more likely to commit a violent act.