In Massachusetts, the state’s highest court says that defendants solely charged with illegal gun possession cannot be held without bail on the grounds that they might pose a danger to others. The Supreme Judicial Court says illegal gun possession alone is a crime that has no victims and is passive.
The SJC’s 4-1 ruling rejects Bristol District Attorney Samuel Sutter’s efforts to detained anyone charged with illegally possessing a gun prior to trial in his jurisdiction. Massachusett’s high court heard the case because a lower court would not allow Sutter to hold several people on gun charges for 90 days.
The court’s majority noted that the crime is not included in law 58A, which lists the charges that should come with a dangerousness hearing. Justice Spina noted that it is the illegal use of a fire arm and not the mere illegal possession of the weapon that poses a risk of physical harm.
As a result of the SJC ruling, eight criminal defendants in Bristol County can now go free. Sutter says that he will now try to push for at least $25,000 bail. He also wants the state legislature to amend the dangerousness statute so that gun possession cases are included.
Dangerousness hearings are held to determine whether releasing a defendant on bail will pose a danger to others. A judge can opt not to release the person or to impose a large bail sum if the defendant is determined to be dangerous. Sutter had argued that the statute contains language that gives him the authority to insist that dangerousness hearings be held for criminal defendants that have been charged in the last several years.
A bill that Sutter helped draft two years would allow defendants be held without bail for 120 days, rather than the current 90-days. Since is election in 2006, his office says that reports of shots fired in areas under his watch have declined:
• New Bedford: by 40%
• Fall River: by 34%
• Taunton: by 25
SJC calls illegal gun possession victimless, Boston.com, May 5, 2009
Ruling hurts Sutter’s firearms policy, Wicked Local, May 4, 2009
Related Web Resources:
Chapter 276: Section 58A. Conditions for release of persons accused of certain offenses involving physical force or abuse; hearing; order; review, Mass.gov
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Bristol District Attorney Samuel Sutter
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