On April 3, 2020 the Massachusetts Supreme Court issued an important ruling on how courts across the state should adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Law Office of William J. Barabino is committed to providing updates on how criminal law in Massachusetts is being impacted by the virus. Keep up to date on our blog to stay ahead of new developments.
How will imprisoned people be kept safe from the virus?
The problem the court addresses has to do with two groups of people:
- People who are in jail and houses of correction and are waiting for trial
- People who have already been convicted of crimes and are serving their sentences.
The court starts by recognizing the unique problem locked away people face as COVID-19 continues to spread. This problem is that detained people face special dangers by being put in jails and prisons. These dangers have to do with:
- Social distancing difficulties
- Sanitation concerns
- Environmental health worries
- Challenges accessing hospital care
As of April 1, 2020, there were three correctional facilities in Massachusetts with confirmed cases of COVID-19 among inmates. Because of concerns over a potential outbreak in prisons, everyone agreed that changes to the rules of who is detained and for how long must temporarily change.
How will these new changes impact you?
After weighing concerns over constitutional rights and public safety, the court issued an order on how courts in Massachusetts will move forward.
The Supreme Court told the lower courts to consider bail reconsideration and conditions of release hearings.
This order establishes something called a rebuttable presumption of innocence. This means, that going forward, any person who is being held with bail and who has not been charged with certain excluded offenses may be released without bail if they are not:
- A possible danger to the community
- Are likely to flee
Offenses that are not supposed to qualify a person for this include, among others:
People who are already convicted and have been serving sentences for less than 60 days may be eligible to have their sentences revised or revoked. A punishment delay after an appeal is filed will also be made available, which is called a stay of execution of sentence.
More generally, courts will be required to:
- Speed up parole hearings
- Speed up issuing parole permits
- Release more convicted people early based on time served
- Speed up petitions for compassionate release
Do detained people have constitutional rights?
Yes, a person in police custody before trial AND people who have already been convicted still maintain certain constitutional rights.
The two most important are:
- Eighth Amendment
- Due Process
The Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution says that people held in police custody have a right to be free of cruel and unusual punishments. While the court does not address the constitutional rights of imprisoned people during the pandemic, keeping a person confined in a jail where a life threatening disease is prevalent could be too harsh.
People also have what are called due process rights, or a right to take their case to court and make a defense before they are punished. Questions have been raised about whether a person in police custody before their trial is already being punished by the threat of the virus, before they can go trial and argue their case.
Again, the court has not considered these constitutional issues yet, but they may soon if the virus continues to spread and threaten lives in prisons and jails.
IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT BAIL OR EARLY RELEASE, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.
CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.