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Massachusetts SJC to define held under arrest for purposes of Dangerousness statute allowing for pretrial detention without bail

In Commonwealth v. Finn, the Massachusetts SJC will decide whether the Superior Court can hold a defendant under the dangerousness statute of 58A after the defendant was released by the district court.
The statute says that a person who is “held under arrest” for a felony as enumerated in Subsection 1 of §58A may be detained if that person’s release would not reasonably assure the safety of any other person or the community. The determination would hold that the person poses a danger to others based on the factors of that person’s arrest and his/her first appearance before the court.

Defendant James Finn has been held in detention March 7, 2018 based on the Court’s determination that he was dangerous to the community. The defendant was arrested on December 3, 2017 and charged with three counts of indecent assault and three counts of providing harmful material to minors.  The alleged victims were three children around the age of eight who lived in the same apartment building as Finn and his wife.  Finn was allegedly under the influence of alcohol at the time.  Finn was in custody when initially arraigned on December 4, 2017.  The Commonwealth moved to detain him on the basis of dangerousness under G.L. c. 276, §58A. This was allowed since Finn did not at the time have a stable residence.  Finn was held in detention until conditionally released by the district court on January 22, 2018. His arraignment in superior court was scheduled for March 7.  Finn appeared for arraignment, and the Commonwealth moved again for pretrial detention under §58A.  The defendant opposed the motion and argued that since he was not subject to arrest the dangerousness statute did not apply to him.  The Court disagreed, and Finn has been in detention since March 7 and is appealing the decision to detain him under §58A.

What does it mean to be under arrest under 58A

Finn’s appeal hinges on the Court’s interpretation of “held under arrest” as used when applying §58A.  He argues that he was not “held under arrest” on March 7 when he appeared before the superior court, and that the Commonwealth did not have the legal authority to move to detain him. He cites Commonwealth v. Diggs, 475 Mass. 79 (2016) as his main authority. The defendant argues that the Commonwealth and the Court departed from the literal words of the statute and gave an improper, broad reading to the meaning of §58A’s “held under arrest.  The Court in Diggs held that the “phrase ‘held under arrest’ … refers to any person who has been arrested or for who an arrest warrant has issued in connection with one of the [statutory] enumerated offenses.” Further, the Court stated that the Commonwealth may move to detain under §58A “immediately upon the person’s first appearance in court.”

The defendant does not argue against this basic standard; the defendant argues against the application of this interpretation to a defendant who has been arrested and arraigned previously, held under §58A for several weeks, then conditionally released prior to the arraignment date before the Superior Court. The Commonwealth, with the agreement of the Court, applied the disputed broad interpretation of “held under arrest,” arguing that the prior arrest in December 2017 still held in March 2018 at the Superior Court arraignment hearing (and subsequent detainment). The defendant argues that the conditional release in January 2018 broke any “held under arrest” connection.  The defendant argued that he must either have been arrested or subject to a warrant when he appeared at the arraignment. Before an individual can be detained, all factors of §58A should be met. The Commonwealth cannot cherry-pick the statute’s prerequisites and get a “second bite” at pre-trial detention based on dangerousness.  I would expect the SJC to find for the defendant as the purpose of the dangerousness statute is to hold someone who is a true danger to the community.  If the individual was released, the Commonwealth should not be able to have multiple attempts to hold a defendant without bail.  The Commonwealth still has the right to seek a new or different bail in Superior Court, but to hold a defendant without bail is a significant deprivation of liberty that should not be allowed after the defendant was released.

To learn more about current issues in Massachusetts criminal law you can visit the DelSignore Law Facebook page.

You can read the filing from the Finn case at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court website.

To listen to the oral arguments of the Finn case you can go to the Suffolk University Law School website.


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