We have a couple of stories here which relate to each other in terms of a very serious lesson for the readers of this blog. They will take us into next week.
First, let’s look at proposed changes in the laws surrounding assault and battery…when the complainant is law enforcement.
Governor Charlie Baker is proposing new legislation. Should it pass, suspects who allegedly seriously injure a police officer would face up to 10 years in prison. They would also be disqualified from receiving a probation-only sentence. This is the apparent new political response to the murder of an Auburn police officer at the hands of a criminal with a history of attacking officers. That case, along with a variety of attacks on law enforcement, has sponsored the new concern for our police officer’s safety,
“If someone hurts a police officer, we want to make sure they can be held accountable and that they can’t just walk out (of a courtroom),” Daniel Bennett, Baker’s top public safety official, told the Boston Herald.
“I think the Auburn case really made us take a look back at the original statute … and we thought we should carve out something for police officers,” said Bennett. “They’re putting their lives on the line out there.”
According to the Baker administration, the proposed change would boost the charge of assault and battery on an officer — now a misdemeanor — to a felony, punishable up to 10 years, in cases where the cop sustains a “serious bodily injury.”
The legislation also sets a minimum mandatory sentence of one year, and would bar judges from continuing cases without a finding, giving defendants suspended sentences or ordering them to probation without first serving jail time.
“These are not appropriate punishments when a person breaks a police officer’s jaw or arm, blinds an officer or causes an injury that results in a substantial risk of death,” Baker wrote in a letter to lawmakers that he’ll file with the legislation today.
It also lets a judge consider defendants facing the charge a “danger” and order them held before trial.
As mentioned above, this proposal comes roughly a month after police say Jorge Zambrano shot and killed Auburn police Officer Ronald Tarentino Jr. during an early morning traffic stop, setting off an hours-long manhunt that ended when police shot and killed Mr. Zambrano. Apparently, Zambrano had opened fire from inside a closet first.
Mr. Zambrano had a history of arrests for violent crimes, including assaults against police officers. This would include a January case in Worcester. In that case, he was accused of grabbing the uniform shirt of a police officer and pulling him into a car in which a large pit bull was inside. In that matter, Zambrano was released on personal recognizance at his bail hearing. He later pleaded guilty to that and other charges, and was sentenced to probation.
Not surprisingly, Norwood Police Chief William Brooks, who serves as president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police and worked with state officials on the bill, gave the advice that along with the push of setting the maximum penalty, “you should bring up the bottom level, too…Society sends us into some very difficult spots…It’s not so much making it a felony so more people go to jail. It’s making it a felony so fewer people assault us.”
This proposed bill is not the first of its kind. For example, there is a similar bill pushed by a group of Central Massachusetts lawmakers, who last week filed legislation that would also make assaulting an officer a felony.
Attorney Sam’s Take On When Hypocrisy vs. Reality – Part One
Indeed, this point of view is not only in Massachusetts.
When I was a prosecutor in New York, about a hundred years ago, the only way a defendant could face Murder in the First Degree would be if the victim was a law enforcement officer. Otherwise, the top count could only be Murder in the Second Degree.
It struck me as unfair (to non law enforcement victims). I felt that a life is a life is a life.
Let’s continue with this story in my next posting.
In the meantime, have a great, safe and law-abiding weekend!