In the News

‘Not guilty’ doesn’t mean unpunished;
How the Middlesex DA is changing the way court views bail

Updated Jul 28, 7:38 AM; Posted Jul 28, 6:00 AM
By Dan Glaun | dglaun@masslive.com

Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan speaking in April about a lawsuit she and Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins filed against Immigration and Customs Enforcement over the legality of its arrests at local courthouses. 

Isaac, a slight-framed 19-year-old from Lowell, stood before a weathered wooden railing in his city’s district court last week, waiting to learn if he would keep his freedom.

He had been arrested the day before and charged with a felony count of selling crack cocaine. It was his first arraignment, and he was strapped for cash.

He had spent nearly his last $40 getting bailed out of the police station, and if the judge set hundreds of dollars in bail he would not have been able to afford it, he said in an interview -- meaning he would be locked up until either his case was resolved or his friends and family scraped together the money to get him released.

“If I wasn’t able to pay it, mostly likely I’d lose my job,” said Isaac, who asked that only his first name be used out of concern for his job and his privacy.

It did not come to that. Middlesex County prosecutors did not request any bail, and he was released with a commitment to attend his next court date.

Isaac’s release was not an isolated case.

For the last 18 months, Massachusetts’ most populous county has sought to abolish the use of cash bail for low-level defendants, who otherwise can languish in detention before trial if they cannot pay their way out of lockup.

Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan announced in January of last year that her office would not seek cash bail for offenses that would not typically lead to a jail sentence, including some drug and property crimes.

It was a stand that placed Ryan in the company of a nationwide chorus of criminal justice reform advocates, months before the underdog elections of Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins and Berkshire DA Andrea Harrington made clear that progressive prosecutors were having a moment in Massachusetts.

Now, with a year-and-a-half of bail reform under her belt, Ryan says the policy is working – and has not led to a spike in missed court dates

“It was really looking at where the impact was falling on bail and how bail could sometimes be the beginning of a bad spiral,” Ryan said in an interview. “You have cash bail set you can’t make, you get held, you lose your job. Your housing was probably a bit tenuous anyway, then you lose your housing.”

In criminal justice reform, talk can be cheap. But Lynda Dantas, the attorney in charge of Lowell District Court’s public defender agency, said in an interview that Ryan appears to be following through.

“I would say that generally that is absolutely the truth,” Dantas said. “Where they would usually ask for a minimal bail for $200 or $500, the DA’s office is not asking for bail with those individuals.”

Her and her colleagues have seen more of their clients accused of drug possession, motor vehicle offenses and other misdemeanors go free after their arraignments. That is no small thing, Dantas said. While many cases end in dismissals or not guilty verdicts, defendants who cannot afford bail can spend months in jail awaiting trial.

“Not guilty” does not mean unpunished when pretrial detention can cost people their jobs, their housing or even their children, according to Dantas. Because of those costs, some innocent defendants take quick plea deals that leave them with criminal records rather than fight their charges, she said.

“I think a large percentage of these individuals would rather plead guilty to something they did not do than spend another day in jail,” she said.

When Ryan announced her office’s changing approach to bail, it was paired with a promise of transparency. The DA’s office has launched a web page displaying some of the numbers behind its prosecutions, in what it describes as an effort to give Middlesex residents a clear look at how their criminal justice system functions.

And it has shared raw data with Northeastern University, which will produce reports designed to illuminate any disparate enforcement among the county’s racial and ethnic groups, genders and municipalities.

Among the numbers publicly released, some stand out. The DA’s Office did not request bail in 72.86 percent of district court cases that continued after arraignment, and 88.82 percent of such juvenile cases. And at any given time, district and superior courts were handling about 9,000 active cases, with 5% of defendants being detained pretrial.

But while Ryan’s office appears committed to collecting and sharing data, determining the exact effects of the new bail policy has proved difficult.

The DA’s Office only began collecting data on bail requests and pretrial detentions in 2018, officials told MassLive – meaning that comparing those numbers to the old, stricter bail policy is not possible. And there is no central data clearinghouse in Massachusetts that allows the public to compare cash bail statistics, default rates or detention rates – either over time or between counties.

In 2017, the Massachusetts Trial Court conducted a study on statewide bail practices following the Supreme Judicial Court’s landmark decision in Brangan v. Commonwealth – a ruling that requires judges to account for a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail.

That study found that 80.7% of defendants in district court, where low-level offenses are typically prosecuted, were released without bail, 16.1 percent were set bail and 3.2 percent were ordered detained.

But those numbers do not help understand where Middlesex ranks in its approach to bail. While the statistics provided by Ryan’s office report on bail requests made by prosecutors, the trial court’s study looked at bail outcomes – including cases where a prosecutor may have requested bail, but a judge ordered the defendant released. That makes comparing those numbers impractical.

MassLive did find some independent evidence that suggests the policy is working as intended.

According to information from the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office, the average number of pretrial detainees in the county jail decreased about 16% from 2017 to 2018. The data shows that the number of people held decreased month-to-month in each month except December, where the population held steady.

“There’s a lot less people being held pre-trial that should never have been held in the past,” Dantas said. “I think this is making a dent.”

And the DA’s Office said that the elimination of bail requests in many low-level crimes has not led to a spike in people skipping court dates. The county’s district court default rate has remained roughly the same since the policy was implemented, Ryan’s office said.

When Ryan announced in January 2018 that her office would no longer seek bail for offenses that would not lead to a jail sentence, she said it was part of an “evolving practice” that followed meetings with law enforcement and community stakeholders.­

And it came amid a national movement to reduce the use of cash bail that has created an alliance of sorts between activists, criminal justice researchers and progressive prosecutors.

A growing body of scholarship has shown that cash bail creates hardships for poor defendants who often face a difficult and inescapable choice: sit in jail awaiting a day in court, risking jobs and housing, or plead guilty, receiving a blemish on their record that can also lead to problems with employers and landlords. Research from Penn Law School's Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice found that defendants who cannot make bail are convicted more frequently and receive worse plea terms than those who can pay.

Ryan said that her office does not have data on whether guilty pleas have decreased since her reforms were implemented.

“It stands to reason that is a factor in some cases,” Ryan said.

In 2017, New Jersey essentially eliminated money bail, replacing it with a focus on offenders that judges deem dangerous to the community. Despite funding challenges, state officials say the system has been a success. The numbers of people detained before trial plummeted, while recidivism and default rates did not significantly rise, according to a report released in April.

In California, reformers have faced stiffer resistance. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill eliminating cash bail last year, but the measure has been put on hold pending a referendum backed by the bail bond industry.

And in 2017, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling in Brangan v. Commonwealth led to a shift in how judges assess bail. In the Brangan decision, the SJC ruled that judges must consider a defendant’s ability to pay when setting bail – and that cash bail can only be used to ensure that a defendant returns to court, not as a way of jailing defendants without a dangerousness hearing.

“A bail that is set without any regard to whether a defendant is a pauper or a plutocrat runs the risk of being excessive and unfair,” Justice Geraldine S. Hines wrote in the decision.

Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins was elected last year on promises to overhaul criminal justice in Greater Boston. She quickly became one of the state’s most visible advocates of progressive prosecution, and in March released a policy memo that addresses cash bail – and goes much further.

Suffolk prosecutors now work from the presumption that all defendants will be released without bail, unless there is “clear evidence” of a flight risk or the need for a dangerousness hearing. And Rollins’ memo lists 15 misdemeanors that her office will divert or decline to charge, except in exceptional circumstances – ranging from drug possession with intent to distribute and petty larceny to breaking into a vacant property and driving with a suspended license.

Those policies – and Rollins’ focus on the harms inflicted by the criminal justice system – have drawn aggressive pushback from law-and-order factions of the criminal justice community. The National Police Association – a conservative Indiana-based nonprofit that is not affiliated with individual police departments – filed a bar complaint against her.

And Cape & Islands DA Michael O’Keefe wrote an opinion column in the Boston Globe that did not name Rollins but blasted her approach, attributed the campaigns of “social justice” DA candidates to support from George Soros and said the criminal justice system has been wrongly blamed for racial disparities in incarceration.

“It’s harder to blame, for example, the disintegration of the family, a lack of respect for discipline and education, and the glorification in some communities of a culture that celebrates disrespectful language and misogyny under the guise of art,” wrote O’Keefe. “I suspect that these factors are more influential regarding who is in jail or prison than an inert criminal justice system.”

Ryan’s more modest reforms have escaped such public controversy.

“I am very fortunate to have good, solid relationships with our chiefs of police, with our local officials. This wasn’t something that we did abruptly,” she said. “We’ve done this in a measured way. We’ve been fortunate. The results have been what we hoped.”

MassLive reached out to several Middlesex County police departments for this story, none of whom responded with criticisms of Ryan’s bail policy.

“We have not taken a position on this, nor have any Middlesex chiefs voiced concerns directly to me,” Mass Chiefs of Police President Mark Leahy wrote in an email.

Dantas, the public defender, said she has noticed an increase in the Middlesex DA’s use of dangerousness hearings to deny bail entirely, now that the use of cash bail has decreased.

While judges are currently only allowed to consider a defendant’s pending charges when assessing dangerousness, a coalition of law enforcement officials and political leaders are pushing for legislation that would make those detentions easier. A bill filed by Gov. Charlie Baker would allow judges to consider criminal histories when deciding dangerousness and grant prosecutors the right to appeal bail decisions by district court judges.


SH News Service


SIDS Stories Spur Prosecutor to Enact New Policy

After listening to stories at a hearing Tuesday from parents who lost children to sudden infant death syndrome, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan's office this week initiated a new policy to connect parents who lose a child with support resources.

Families who lost children to SIDS on Tuesday touted a Sen. Joan Lovely bill (S 68) that would direct the Medical Examiner's office to provide families or guardians with "information, support, referral, and follow-up services relating to sudden infant death syndrome" immediately following the determination that SIDS is the presumed cause of death.

On Wednesday, Ryan's office made it its policy to provide families who suffer the unexpected death of a child with informational material from the Massachusetts Center for Unexpected Infant and Child Death.

"The loss of a child is the most devastating tragedy a family can endure. We know that the trauma of this loss has immediate impacts on those who loved and cared for that child," Ryan said in a statement Wednesday. "Yesterday's hearing exposed a gap in services that our office has the capability to address. I applaud the legislature's efforts to codify the practice of providing these resources, but given the immediate need to address this problem we are acting now."

Ryan's office put its new policy into action later Wednesday evening, when troopers from her office responded to the death of a five-month-old child found unresponsive at a day care facility on Falmouth Road in Waltham. Ryan's office said staff immediately administered CPR and the infant was transported to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

"While the investigation into this matter is still ongoing, and a ruling on the cause of death has not been made, this demonstrates how quickly a change can have an impact," Ryan said. - Colin A. Young/SHNS

6/13/2019 12:29:26 PM


MetroWest

Players from Chelsea Football Club hold soccer clinic for Framingham Students
By Zane Razzaq @zanerazz
Daily News staff
Posted May 14, 2019 at 6:10 PM Updated May 15, 2019 at 4:55 PM
The workshop came before Chelsea's charity match against the New England Revolution team Wednesday. The game at Gillette Stadium aims to bring awareness to global anti-Semitism.

FRAMINGHAM – Sixth-grader Guilherme Freitas was beaming when he high-fived London's Chelsea Football Club defender David Luiz. Behind him, another player, Emerson Palmieri, was busy autographing the back of his shirt.

Players from Britain's Premier League team visited Fuller Middle School for a workshop that highlighted the values of equality, diversity, and friendship Tuesday afternoon. The program was part of the Chelsea Foundation's work supporting their charity game against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium set for Wednesday night. The match, dubbed "Final Whistle on Hate," aims to combat global antisemitism and discrimination, with all proceeds going towards initiatives fighting antisemitism and all hate crimes.

"It was amazing," said 13-year-old student Cristian Perez, who names Eden Hazard as his favorite Chelsea player. "I was so happy to see them. I got all their signatures."

Students from Fuller and Cameron Middle School participated in the program. Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan and the Anti-Defamation League partnered to bring the program to Framingham. In addition to Tuesday's events, Chelsea Football Club also invited after-school participants from Cameron and Fuller Middle Schools to attend an open practice at Harvard University on Monday. Limited tickets to the Chelsea vs. Revolution soccer game were also offered to Framingham students.

One part of the program saw kids learning soccer techniques in a session with Chelsea coach Nathan Philip, player Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Palmieri, and Luiz. In another session, students spent time in a diversity workshop, writing pledges detailing their commitments to diversity and equality.

Teachers with the Chelsea Foundation used sports as an example of diversity, encouraged students to develop ideas on how differences can be celebrated, and how sports can be used to bring communities together.

"This is something we're really passionate about: using the power of the badge to inspire kids," said Sam Gaskin-Kemp, program manager. "Soccer sometimes has a bad reputation for the fans not always behaving themselves. We want to prove that wrong."

Casey Bell, manager of Secondary Out of School Time in the district, said the gym was filled with "super high-energy," as players gave students soccer tips and led them through drills.

"They (the students) were psyched. A lot of them had never been to a soccer game, let alone meet a famous player," said Bell. "It's something they couldn't have accessed before."

Fans can purchase tickets to the match on Ticketmaster.com or Revolutionsoccer.net. Prices for individual tickets start at $40. Special discounts on group tickets are available through Revolutionsoccer.net.

Zane Razzaq can be reached at 508-626-3919 or zrazzaq@wickedlocal.com and on Twitter at @zanerazz.


The Reading Advocate: DA Ryan speaks to Reading Rotary Club on opioid crisis
By Joanne Sender
Jun 25, 2018 at 4:34 PM Jun 25, 2018 at 4:34 PM

The Reading Rotary Club held their annual installation of officers with special guest speaker, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan, Tuesday, June 19 at St. Agnes Parish Center.

Ryan, the only female DA in Massachusetts who has held the position since 2013, spoke to the group about the current state of the opioid crisis in the county.

As a chief law enforcement officer in the state, Ryan explained that when there is an unattended death her state troopers respond. They make an initial assessment of what is the cause of death and insure there is no foul play.

When local police determine they cannot help the person the state police come in and start investigating. They will look at the persons phone to see where they may have gotten the drug and also who else they have spoken to recently as that person may also be at risk if they obtained the same drug. In addition, Ryan said they gather information on what the person struggled with in order to make useful predictions.

Last year there were 1,044 opioid-related fatalities, Ryan said.  Every one of those is someone’s child, somebody’s sibling, somebody’s mom and dad, she said. How many families can you spare from that sort of tragedy?

Until 2012 there were approximately 40 opioid-related deaths each year. At the end of 2012 something happened and that number rose to 65.  That was alarming, Ryan said.

Hardest hit was the Merrimack Valley. Task forces were formed with everyone who was going to have anything to do with the problem. The first successful task force was formed in Lowell. By the end of this summer a fifth one in Auburn will be established.

Ryan said that the crisis involves just about every town in the county. Reading has seen 15 deaths and that does not include those where individuals die in the hospital.  The towns may look different, the problem is exactly the same, Ryan said.

Ryan also spoke about the success of Naloxone (Narcan), saying, “We know that Narcan is a lifesaving drug.”

Ryan said it is 100 percent effective if given in time before the heart stops and there are no ill effects and you cannot harm a person if you give it and they don’t actually need it.

She said there is a lot of talk about not giving Narcan but her thought is it gives a person another day to try to work things out.

If that’s your child, that’s all you want, she said.

Combating the crisis
The DAs office receives a portion of seized money and assets that are the profits of drugs and Ryan has used that money to purchase the Narcan she distributes. So far her office has distributed 4,000 doses.  I want it to be as readily available as fire extinguishers or defibrillators, she said.

Ryan has distributed Narcan to schools, athletic trainers, soup kitchens and recently to funeral homes where people have overdosed while at the services of a friend who has died from an overdose.

One improvement in the crises, according to Ryan, has been the ability to prevent surges. In the past while there might be an average of four deaths a day it would on occasion surge to nine or 10 and they would just have to wait it out. But in March of 2017 the county partnered with private ambulances since they always know what is happening because they have to bill somebody.

Ryan’s office was able to use this real time data to see the surge begin and they took to social media to warn people there might be bad product out there and to take a break or be careful. They told people if they had loved ones who are using they should contact them and make sure they had Narcan.

Every time we’ve done it the surge has stopped, Ryan said.

Ryan said that for a while no matter what they did the numbers kept going up, unlike other health issues that had been addressed such as smoking and drunk driving. She said it takes a change in thinking and that’s been hard to do. She explained that part of it is the physiological differences of addiction.

While you can become addicted in as few as six days it takes six months for the scar tissue to heal when you stop. That is why a week or ten days of treatment might be a good idea but doesn’t work.

There has been some good news. In 2017 there was a drop in the numbers. Lowell, the worst hit city, has seen a 21 percent drop in fatal overdoses, and the county overall has seen an 11.5 percent reduction.

This is going to take time, Ryan said.

One thing that has changed is more people are overdosing at home instead in seemingly random places. In 81 percent of cases people are dying in their own homes. The median age of an overdose victim is 36, which Ryan explained means they are deep in addiction and the social aspect of using is gone. More and more children are finding their parents when they overdose. Project Care has been formed to address the trauma these children face.

In 60 percent of at home deaths a non-using adult is also at home. It is heartbreaking for these people to have not realized their loved one was dying, Ryan added. They often mistake the distressed breathing of an overdose to snoring. Ryan said people are at risk of overdosing a few days after they have been drug free from rehab or jail. Their receptors are now clean and using the same amount of drug they used prior can be fatal.

The times most people are susceptible to overdosing is around 72 hours of a loss or trauma. And she is not sure of the connection but a lot of people who die have sought medical treatment in the three to four days prior to their death for some other illness such as a sore throat.

Ryan told the group she had testified before Congress the previous day and was shocked at how far behind so many places were. She concluded by asking Rotarians to be her ambassadors and spread the word.

Rich Winant, founder and director of the Kelly Sober House of Wakefield, also spoke with what he called a message of hope.

He also warned that after a stay in rehab people are not ready to come home and family aren’t ready to receive them. In the days after they come out they will feel like using and they can be open to talking about their feelings in a sober house.  Metrics show sober living is working, Winant said.


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