We live in a “when the going gets tough, the tough get blaming” society today. We continue to fall into the same behavior in the face of tragedy. Then we wonder why we have the same problems. A police officer has been murdered during a robbery t. The shooter, Dominic Cinelli, who was freed on parole in 2009 and who killed Officer John B. Maguire on December 26, 2010, had an extremely bad criminal history, yet he convinced a parole board that he was a good candidate for release.
Yesterday, as the parole board returned to work, I was interviewed on WBZ, part of which interview can be found here.
The political debate has gotten so trident that Governor Deval Patrick, simply making the statement that this is a time in which we should focus on the victims of what happened, aka the officer’s family, has raised people’s ire. He also had the temerity to suggest he should gather all the information before he passes judgment.
Such outlandish suggestions brought widespread anger from police chiefs and victims’ advocates. When we get a heaping helping of angry voices, we naturally get a side order of political posturing to go along with it. For example, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo not only expressed outrage at the board’s decision but vowed to make it a “major focus” of legislative action in the new session.
Legislation has been suggested which would remove the possibility of parole for certain repeat offenders, and require judges to impose the maximum possible punishment for anyone convicted of their third felony in Superior Court.
And, of course, why not make it a “Republican vs. Democrat” issue why we are at it? A group of GOP lawmakers claim that the bill has been stuck in the Democrat-controlled Judiciary Committee since March, and that versions of it have been circulating without action for nearly a decade on Beacon Hill.
According to Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr’s office, one section of said bill would require the maximum possible punishment for the third felony conviction in Superior Court, which Cinelli had. Another would eliminate the ability of defendants to agree to “package deals” and receive concurrent sentences for crimes committed while they are out on bail.
Another idea is to make it so that anyone convicted of three felonies can never be released from prison.
The reasoning for these suggestions is that said bills would have prevented the Parole Board from freeing Dominic Cinelli.
It’s true – they would have. Of course, so would enacting the death penalty for anyone incarcerated more than once.
From The Trenches:
Any attorney with real experience in the criminal justice system should be able to tell you that, although they might sound good when you say them fast, the end result of most of these suggestions would be disastrous to the system.
Let’s put any thought of humanity aside for the moment. After all, these are criminals and, at times like these, it is more politically correct to consider them as non-humans.
The fact is that while it may feel good to say we are “tough on crime” and want to keep dangerous felons incarcerated for life, actually doing so could lead to the collapse of a system that is already hanging on by the skin of its teeth.
Already, we have over-crowding to the point of being unconstitutional. Even with the over-crowding, there are not enough prisons to safely hold everyone we throw in particularly because of all the “tough on crime” laws that have been passed for political expediency to strip judges of discretionary sentences. Fortunately for the system, however, people have been leaving the prisons as well as coming in so there has been something akin to equal librium.
Now, are we suggesting that a great deal of the convicts never come in?. I am going to assume for the sake of argument that we are not suggesting that we slow down on the number of people we send to jail going forward for vicious crimes like drug abuse, prostitution and the like.
“Sam, you are being unreasonable. We are talking about three-time felony convicts!”
Do you know what is counted as a felony convictions these days?
If you have an altercation with someone and you kick them with a shoe on your foot…that is a felony. If the police are investigating a crime and they deem that you have tried to mislead them…that is a felony. What’s that? You shoplifted something and it was valued at over $250? Felony city again.
These are the crimes that we are happy to reward with non-discretionary life sentences without parole? What about if you are charged with selling drugs? Well, doing so opens you up, in most cases, to three charges automatically. These would be straight possession, possession with intent to distribute and doing so in a school zone (which, at this point, could be almost everywhere). Three convictions? Let’s go back to the assault analogy. During the fight, you kicked someone, threw a pencil at them and punched him in the groin.
Three felonies. See you next lifetime?
I know it does not have the same feel good effect, but can we take a moment to actually think here? Do people out there really believe that the parole board which voted unanimously to free this particular parolee really did so without any thought? Do we really think that they simply took the responsibility so lightly that they thought it might be a neat trick to play on the Commonwealth by releasing him?
It would appear that they made a mistake. People tend to do that sometimes. It does not mean that the appropriate response is to apply a half-witted rule which overshoots the problem and, simply, creates more.
Yes, there are problems in the parole system. There are vast problems in the correctional system. There are even enormous problems in the justice system.
Instead of the political “feel good” approach, how about we slow down and try to attend to the real problems and maybe avoid a complete break-down of the system itself.
If you would like to discuss a criminal case with me, please feel to call me to arrange a free initial consultation at 617-492-3000.
To view the original story in which parts of this blog were based, please go to : http://mobile.boston.com/art/34/news/local/breaking_news/2011/01/house_gop_membe and http://mobile.boston.com/art/30/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2011/01/04/outrage_restraint_voiced_over_parole_inquiry/