Suffolk County District Attorney John P. Pappas testified at the State House yesterday in support of a bill filed by Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to improve the process by which people are released on bail or held because of their dangerousness.
In remarks before members of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, Pappas said he supported “An Act to Protect the Commonwealth from Dangerous Persons,” filed last month to update Massachusetts statutes surrounding bail, dangerousness hearings, and other aspects of pre-trial release or detention.
Pappas asked the Committee to adopt the bill, especially a provision that would allow prosecutors to appeal a district or municipal court judge’s abuse of discretion in setting bail. Massachusetts judges have unfettered discretion in setting bail, and while a defendant may appeal a bail order prosecutors may not – even in a case such as the one Pappas described at yesterday’s hearing.
Pappas recounted the case of a man with a prior default in a case charging assault with intent to kill who was charged this summer with indecent assault and battery on the young child of a relative. The Charlestown Municipal Court judge who arraigned the case declined to set cash bail and instead released the defendant to home confinement and GPS monitoring. When informed that the courthouse had no GPS devices, however, the judge rescinded that order and instructed the defendant’s wife to call police if he left the house.
The defendant violated those orders almost immediately, and within days the court heard testimony at a restraining order hearing that he had attended a soccer game where the victim’s mother was present. The court granted a motion for an arrest warrant – only to learn that he had given a false address.
“When the defendant was finally taken back into custody,” Pappas said, “a second judge didn’t just deny prosecutors’ motions to revoke his personal recognizance, to set higher bail, or to impose at least the GPS monitoring that had previously been ordered and then rescinded. This second judge actually relaxed the conditions of his house arrest, effectively rewarding him for violating the terms of his release.”
Pappas also supported provisions within the bill that would allow judges to consider a defendant’s prior history of violence when determining whether to grant a dangerousness hearing and would remove the requirement that prosecutors seek a dangerousness hearing only at arraignment. And he asked lawmakers to look favorably on the bill’s requirement that the courts create and utilize a text-messaging service to notify defendants of upcoming mandatory court appearances.
“For defendants who present neither a public safety threat nor a flight risk, the text message service provision of the Governor’s bill is, to my mind, overdue,” Pappas said. “For these defendants, an automated reminder is sufficient – and perhaps even more effective than monetary bail. At a time when our own SJC notes that cellular phones are used by almost everyone for almost everything, there is no reason for our courts not to explore their efficacy in this regard.”