Berkshire DA under fire for dangerousness hearings

Two years ago, shortly after she was elected district attorney in Berkshire County, Andrea Harrington said she was going to sharply curtail the use of cash bail.

“A cash bail system is basically un-American,” she said on WGBY-TV’s Connecting Point. “It’s discriminatory against people who are impoverished. Two people accused of the same crime with the same kind of evidence – if one person can come up with $500 to be released pre-trial and the other person cannot because of their financial circumstances, to me that’s clearly inequitable and it’s not fair and it really doesn’t keep our community safe.”

In that same interview, Harrington also made clear that if her office felt a defendant was a danger to the community or to someone in the community it would present evidence of that danger to a judge and seek to hold the person that way.

“That way we’re able to distinguish between people who should be behind bars because they’re dangerous and people who are innocent until proven guilty,” she said.

Harrington appears to have followed through on her pledge. Defendants today are rarely being held on bail, but now advocates and defense attorneys are accusing her of using dangerousness hearings to lock their clients up prior to a trial. 

In separate reports by New England Public Media and the Berkshire Eagle, the defense attorneys and advocates suggest Harrington has substituted one discriminatory practice for another. While bail hearings are way down, the number of dangerousness hearings has increased dramatically – tripling in District Court and rising fivefold in Superior Court, according to the reports.

“It doesn’t get much more of an infringement on civil liberties,” defense attorney Michael Hinkley told New England Public Media. “That is, people are being held by the government. They haven’t been found guilty, they haven’t been adjudicated guilty and — in some cases — they’ve been held longer than the law allows given the pandemic.”

If a defendant is declared dangerous, he or she can be held for 120 days in District Court cases and 180 days in Superior Court cases – and even longer during COVID.

It’s quite possible that dangerousness hearings went up in Berkshire County when bail hearings went down because prosecutors – and judges – were implementing bail improperly previously. In a 2017 decision on a bail issue, the Supreme Judicial Court was critical of prosecutors for incorporating claims about the defendant’s dangerousness into a request for bail.

“Using unattainable bail to detain a defendant because he is dangerous is improper,” the court held. “If the Commonwealth wishes to have a defendant held pretrial because he poses a danger to another person or the community, it must proceed under the [statute dealing with dangerousness.]”

BRUCE MOHL

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Let them go: The Department of Correction has been roundly criticized for its slow-walking approach to medical parole, particularly during COVID. Now the Supreme Judicial Court has issued two decisions prodding the agency to make it easier for prisoners to apply for medical parole and to speed up releases once they are approved. “For more than a year, people suffered and died waiting because the Commonwealth created a regulation that they knew was wrong and enforced it until today,” said Ruth Greenberg, an attorney who represented the prisoners in the latest cases. Read more.

State licensing overhaul: The Baker administration filed legislation seeking to overhaul the the Bureau of Professional Licensure, the agency responsible for licensing a wide assortment of professions, including barbers, electricians, massage therapists, social workers, and optometrists. The proposal calls for transferring 13 boards dealing with the oversight of health workers to the Department of Public Health and giving enhanced powers to all the boards. Read more.

Roundabout on hold: The state Department of Transportation shelved plans to reconstruct a roundabout in Northampton after deciding archaeological remains in the area made construction impossible, but opponents of the project aren’t convinced it’s really dead. Read more.

Opinion:

Cape Cod cleaning up: A series of new funding initiatives is allowing many towns on Cape Cod to clean up septic-system pollution that is harming bays, rivers, and lakes and poses an existential threat to the area’s economy, say three Cape advocates — Wendy Northcross, Andrew Gottlieb, and Jeff Mahoney. Read more.

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

 

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker wades into international affairs, issuing a tweet saying he stands with Israel and prays for an end to the bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians. (State House News Service)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

Former Boston police commissioner William Gross, who urged then-Mayor Marty Walsh to appoint Dennis White as his successor, says in an affidavit that Walsh knew of White’s internal affairs record detailing a domestic abuse allegation against him. Walsh denies it. (Boston Globe

The Boston city council unanimously passes a measure that would give the 13-member body more say over the city’s annual budget, a spending plan that is now largely controlled by the mayor. (Boston Globe

The Amherst Town Council approves funding for a committee to make reparations for past harms to the Black community. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Republicans are looking to rewrite the history of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol as they mobilize to oppose a measure calling for a bipartisan commission to investigate the attack. (Boston Globe

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a sweeping new law restricting abortions in the state as early as six weeks into pregnancies. (Washington Post

ELECTIONS

Boston city councilor and mayoral candidate Andrea Campbell issued a “30-day challenge” to Acting Mayor Kim Janey to develop a comprehensive plan to clean up the troubled area around Mass. Ave. and Melnea Cass Blvd. (Boston Herald

The “Markeyverse” of young activists, many not even old enough to vote, that helped propel Ed Markey’s primary win over Joe Kennedy gets some national attention in the New York Times

While Republican-controlled states have looked to restrict voting, Democrats on Beacon Hill want to expand voting rights in the state. (Boston Herald

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A legislative proposal would ensure that gig economy workers, who are independent contractors, remain eligible for unemployment benefits after the pandemic ends. A special program set up to give them benefits is set to expire in September. (Gloucester Daily Times)

The Black Economic Council of Massachusetts wants the state to launch a publicly-run bank. (Boston Globe

Legislators will consider the future of outdoor dining and to-go cocktails once the pandemic state of emergency ends. (Patriot Ledger)

The latest hurdle for Don Chiofaro’s dreams of a waterfront tower in Boston? The looming mayoral race, in which several contenders have a dim view of his plans. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Holy Cross college is investigating allegations of sexual misconduct against two of its faculty members. (Telegram & Gazette)

Data released by the Boston public schools detail big shifts in the demographics and neighborhood residence of students admitted to the city’s three exam schools following changes to the entry criteria that ensure slots for every ZIP code. (Boston Globe

ARTS/CULTURE

Popular morning radio host Matt Siegel stormed off the air after being told to stop talking about pop star Demi Lovato’s announcement that they are non-binary — but he later said he is not quitting and will retain to the air today. (Boston Globe

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

As the Hopkinton police release more information about the death of Mikayla Miller, her mother says she does not believe her daughter died by suicide. (WBUR) High-profile civil rights lawyer Ben Crump, who represented George Floyd’s family, appeared at a briefing in the case and said the medical examiner’s ruling “defies common sense” and asked, “Was she lynched?” (Boston Herald

The ACLU threatens Plymouth with a lawsuit after town officials force a resident to take down a politically conservative lawn sign. (Patriot Ledger)

Boston police sergeant Brian Dunford was captured on cellphone video striking a 10-year-old child who was pinned to the ground, according to court records related to his arrest on Tuesday. (Boston Globe

The New Bedford police department is reviewing its “gang list” after a report was released that criticized the list for having racial disparities and no way to appeal a gang designation. The police use a gang list to target people for enhanced enforcement. (Standard-Times)

MEDIA

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who is Black, grants interviews at the two-year mark of her administration only to Black reporters. “I have been struck since my first day on the campaign trail back in 2018 by the overwhelming whiteness and maleness of Chicago media outlets, editorial boards, the political press corps, and yes, the City Hall press corps specifically,” Lightfoot wrote in a letter to the media. (Chicago Tribune)

The University of North Carolina offers Nikole Hannah-Jones a five-year teaching contract rather than tenure after receiving complaints about the Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which reframed the history of the United States using the prism of slavery. (The 19th)