Bill calls for tougher domestic violence penalties
BOSTON (AP) — Bail for domestic battery suspects would be delayed and the penalties they face toughened under a bill introduced at the Statehouse on Tuesday that also requires judges to undergo more training around domestic violence issues.
Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, and state Attorney General Martha Coakley, who together directed the crafting of the legislation, said it was spurred by the highly publicized case involving the son of Boston Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy.
Jared Remy pleaded not guilty to the stabbing death last August of his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel. Remy’s arrest came one day after he was released from custody on charges of assaulting Martel, and the case prompted questions about whether Remy’s history of domestic violence was overlooked or if he’d been treated too leniently by the criminal justice system in the past.
DeLeo said an abuser’s behavior often foreshadows horrific acts of violence.
“There are indicators. There are patterns,” he said. “As so many folks I talked to in preparing the bill said, it is preventable.”
DeLeo said the bill, which he called the most comprehensive overhaul of the state’s domestic violence laws in a generation, would be debated in the House next week.
Coakley, a Democratic candidate for governor, said that while the Remy case was emblematic, it was far more than a single case that prompted the legislative effort.
“Understanding the dynamic of power and abuse, the predatory nature particularly of serial domestic abusers, required that we do more than we have been doing,” Coakley said.
The bill would require that a battery suspect be kept in custody for at least six hours after an arrest before being released on bail, to allow time for a safety plan to be developed for the accuser. If bail is granted, it must be accompanied by a written assessment of the safety risks posed by a defendant’s release.
Judges making decisions on bail or sentencing would also have uniform access to all available information about a defendant, including prior charges and past restraining orders, under the legislation. DeLeo suggested that if judges had known more about Remy’s past record, it might have made a difference in the outcome.
The bill would require judges and other court personnel would undergo training every two years on issues surrounding domestic violence, including the availability of support services for victims.
New categories of domestic crimes, with increased penalties, would be created under the measure, including the specific crimes of strangulation and suffocation. Statistically such actions point to the probability of a homicide in the future, Coakley and DeLeo said.
Several of the state’s district attorneys came to the Statehouse to support the bill, as did representatives of organizations that advocate for abused women.
Risa Mednick, executive director of Transition House, a shelter and support service for domestic violence victims, said women often lack confidence in the ability of the system to protect them.
“Oftentimes people go it alone and that unfortunately was the case with Jennifer Martel, that she wasn’t connected to a service provider in her community,” said Mednick.
Paul Dacier, president of the Boston Bar Association, said the lawyers’ group planned to study the bill and work with lawmakers to “improve the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence.”