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SJC Says § 58A Hearing in Superior Court is Appropriate Regardless of Whether Defendant Appears Pursuant to a Summons or is Under Arrest

handcuffs-1469317-300x225In a recent decision – Finn v. Commonwealth – the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that G.L. c.276, §58A, “permits a Superior Court judge to conduct a dangerousness hearing upon a defendant’s first appearance in that court, regardless of whether that appearance is pursuant to a summons or to an arrest warrant.”

The background was as follows. “In December of 2017, the defendant was arrested and charged by criminal complaint in the District Court with one count of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of fourteen” and related offenses. “At arraignment, the Commonwealth moved for pretrial detention pursuant to G.L. c.276, §58A.” Section 58A(4) provides that “‘[w]hen a person is held under arrest for an offense listed in subsection (1) and upon a motion by the [C]ommonwealth, the judge shall hold a [dangerousness] hearing.” Here “[a]fter an evidentiary hearing [on the Commonwealth’s motion], a District Court judge ordered that the defendant be held without bail. The judge then allowed the defendant’s motion for reconsideration, and ordered that the defendant could be released with conditions, including [GPS] monitoring.” Three weeks after his release, a grand jury returned several indictments against the defendant “for the same events underlying the December 2017 complaint. The prosecutor arranged with defense counsel to schedule the defendant’s arraignment in the Superior Court; no new arrest warrant was issued. The defendant complied with a summons, and was arraigned…. At arraignment, the Commonwealth moved for pretrial detention pursuant to G.L. c.276, §58A. The defendant opposed the motion on the ground that the Commonwealth lacked the right to seek a dangerousness hearing in the Superior Court because the defendant had not been “‘subject to arrest” or “held under arrest” when he appeared for his arraignment, pursuant to [a] summons.’…. [A] Superior Court judge allowed the motion for pretrial detention, without prejudice. Subsequently, the defendant filed a petition pursuant to G.L. c.211, §3, seeking to vacate the order of pretrial detention” on the grounds “that the Commonwealth lacked authority to move to detain him pursuant to G.L. c.276, §58A, because he was not ‘under arrest’ or subject to arrest within the meaning of the statute when he appeared in the Superior Court pursuant to a summons.” The single justice reserved and reported the matter to the full SJC.

In its decision, the SJC cited its conclusion in Commonwealth v. Diggs, 475 Mass. 79, 80 (2016), “‘that where a criminal defendant has been arrested or is subject to an outstanding arrest warrant for an enumerated offense, the defendant may be subject to pretrial detention under G.L. c.276, §58A(4), even if the defendant is not held in custody following the arrest, so long as the dangerousness hearing takes place “immediately upon the person’s first appearance before the court.”’” The Court rejected the defendant’s position, which “would require the Commonwealth to re-arrest any individual who previously had been released on conditions after a dangerousness hearing in the District Court, or released under G.L. c.276, §58, should the Commonwealth seek a dangerousness hearing following an indictment and subsequent arraignment in the Superior Court.” The SJC opined that “requesting a defendant’s presence in court through a summons is far preferable to arresting [him],” because “subjecting a defendant to arrest is more disruptive to [him].”

Being found “dangerous” pursuant to § 58A is an extremely serious potential consequence for defendants criminally charged with a qualifying offense because it may result in a 120 day detention period.  If you or a loved one has been charged with such an offense and the Commonwealth is moving for dangerousness, you will need an experienced and dedicated attorney to represent you.  Attorney Daniel Cappetta has successfully litigated numerous dangerousness hearings and makes sure that his clients get the best possible result.  Call him for a free consultation today.

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