Baker looks to leverage bail controversy
Administration wants to expand ability to hold defendants before trial
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM supporters have been pushing to draw attention to the role played by bail in the legal system. Whether this will end up being a case of “be careful what you wish for” remains to be seen, but the issue is getting attention in ways advocates did not intend.
The latest volley comes from the Baker administration, which is using a recent case to dial up pressure on the Legislature to act on a bill that would make it easier to hold more defendants indefinitely without bail before trial.
The Globe reports today that Thomas Turco, Gov. Charlie Baker’s public safety secretary, sent a letter to legislators urging passage of a bill filed by the governor that would expand the ability to hold defendants deemed dangerous without bail.
His legislation would let defendants be held indefinitely before trial, rather than the current limit of 180 days for cases in Superior Court and 120 days for District Court cases. It would also allow prosecutors to seek a ruling at any point that a defendant is too dangerous to have a bail amount set. Currently they must do that at the initial arraignment. It would also expand the cases for which prosecutors could seek a dangerousness hearing to include a wider set of charges, such a child rape, which is not currently included in that group.
The nonprofit Bail Fund, which opposes all cash bail, has seen a surge in donations as it spotlights the role of bail in keeping poorer defendants locked up before being tried while those of greater means have their bail posted and are free while awaiting trial. The organization, which originally posted bail amounts up to $500, has used the growth in support to bail out defendants facing more serious charges. Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins and Attorney General Maura Healey sharply criticized the group for posting McClinton’s bail,
Rollins’s office filed a motion in another case to raise a homeless defendant’s bail tenfold after learning the Bail Fund was prepared to provide the funds to have him released, but she withdrew the motion a day after CommonWealth reported on it and it drew broad criticism. Her office filed a similar motion in at least one other case, but the defense attorney in that case, Meg Stanley, said this morning that the DA’s office notified her it planned to withdraw the motion today.
Advocates called the criticism of the Bail Fund by Rollins and Healey misplaced, and said DAs should file for dangerousness hearings if they think a defendant poses an imminent public safety risk, not rely on high bail amounts to keep them behind bars.
Rollins recently said her office will be seeking dangerousness hearings in more cases, something Worcester DA Joseph Early said his office would also be doing.
Now, Baker is urging the Legislature to go further and expand the ways defendants can be held without bail.
The administration’s bill is “a giant step backwards in criminal justice reform,” Randy Gioia, deputy chief counsel for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, whose lawyers represent indigent defendants, told the Globe. “If this bill becomes law more people will be locked up for longer periods of time before trial. There is no data that supports why we need to do this.”The administration seems to be hoping the Bail Fund involvement in more serious cases — and the outrage over the McClinton case in particular — will give fresh momentum to the bill, which Baker has filed twice before only to see lawmakers not act on it.