DA Quinn supports Baker’s plan to focus on facts and criminal record for dangerousness hearings



Bristol County District Attorney Thomas M. Quinn III testified before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary last week in support of Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposed amendments to the state’s Dangerousness Statute. The proposed changes would add specific crimes such as aggravated rape of a child to the list of offenses whereby prosecutors can request a dangerousness hearing.

“The proposed amendments to the dangerousness statute include common sense changes to the already existing statute. These changes do not impact a defendant’s due process rights. They simply make it more equitable and fairer for victims and the administration of justice,” District Attorney Quinn told the committee members.

The legislation, An Act to Protect Victims of Crime and the Public, would make several key changes to existing criminal law.

District Attorney Quinn specifically testified in support of the need to add serious crimes to the dangerousness statute because–under the current law–sexual crimes against children and other serious crimes cannot be subjected to a dangerousness hearing. This results in dangerous criminals being released back into the community on affordable bail.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” District Attorney Quinn testified. “A defendant in their 30s or 40s, charged with aggravated rape of a child, could have sex with a 10-year-old child and we could not even request a hearing to have them detained.”

District Attorney Quinn went on to argue that cash bail is an outdated and arbitrary approach to detaining defendants. It is often unfair to certain defendants who lack financial resources. The amendments to the statute make it more equitable by focusing on the facts and the defendant’s prior criminal record in determining someone’s dangerousness.

“The real question is should a person be held or not held, not how much money they can afford to spend on bail,” District Attorney Quinn testified.

District Attorney Quinn also voiced his support for Gov. Baker’s proposal to do away with the arbitrary and unrealistic time frames associated with the dangerousness statute. The current statute allows a judge to detain a defendant found to be dangerous after a court hearing for only 120 days in district court or 180 days in superior court. This means dangerous defendants can often be released back out onto the streets before the disposition of their case. The governor’s amendment would make it clear that defendants found dangerous by a judge would have to be brought to trial “as soon as is reasonably possible,” while also making sure that defendants are detained (barring any significant change in circumstances) until the disposition of the case. This is consistent with the current rule of a defendant’s right to a speedy trial.

“The current statute, frankly, provides the court with an insufficient amount of time to prosecute most cases in superior court. You don’t suddenly become no longer dangerous after six months. Some of these cases involve domestic violence and violent sexual assaults. If released, dangerous defendants could present a threat to victims, which can result in continued intimidation that could negatively impact the case,” District Attorney Quinn testified.

The dangerousness statute was initially created to protect domestic violence victims because of the number of domestic violence related homicides that occurred in the early 1990s.

District Attorney Quinn also testified in support of Gov. Baker’s proposal to toughen the state’s bail revocation statute. Currently, if a defendant commits a serious new crime while already out on bail for another case, that defendant could have his bail revoked for only 60 days in the district court or 90 days in the superior court. The district attorney likened the current bail revocation statute to a “kindergarten timeout” during his testimony. This can result in defendants who have committed another crime while out on bail to be released for no sound reason. The district attorney argued that the changes to both the dangerousness and bail revocation statutes are “fair and reasonable amendments that would not violate the defendant’s due process rights while also better protecting victims and the public.”

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