At Large: It’s a matter of dangerousness

After Jared Remy was arrested for the murder of his girlfriend, the mother of his child, the Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan explained to the press how it happened that Mr. Remy had been arrested for abusing Ms. Martel the day before he killed her, but released on personal recognizance. She said that her prosecutors did not request a high bail to keep him in the can, or even any bail at all. They agreed to Mr. Remy’s release, because they thought he would certainly make his next scheduled court appearance. They did not think, even though he had been arrested for slamming Ms. Martel’s face into a mirror, that he would start again where he left off but take it up a notch, knifing her repeatedly until she died.

Ms. Ryan said her prosecutors acted on the information they had available to them when the issue of bail arose, including Mr. Remy’s record of 14 previous arrests, including charges of domestic violence against two other women, and the coincidental expiration of a restraining order, which Ms. Martel did not seek to review.

But, the prosecutors also knew, or should have known, that they did not have to base their judgment regarding bail on Ms. Martel’s decision to let the restraining order expire or on whatever may have been her expressed belief that Mr. Remy’s behavior was improving. They knew that in Massachusetts they might have concluded, based on a review of the record and the most recent arrest, that a dangerous hearing was appropriate.

A statute separate from the bail statute covers the issue of dangerousness to the community. After a hearing, a judge could decide that incarceration, electronic monitoring, or daily alcohol testing is necessary to protect the victim of a crime or to protect the community. The dangerousness statute is usually invoked in cases that involve a crime of violence, or drunk driving, but rarely in drug cases.

But, they might have requested one, and Mr. Remy would have stayed in jail until he appeared before a judge who would hear from prosecutors that Mr. Remy’s history, together with the assault he had just been arrested on, justified keeping him behind bars for a while. That was an option that prosecutors had the day before Ms. Martel was killed, but chose not to exercise. Of course, the judge might have ordered bail or recognizance after the hearing, or Mr. Remy might have got around eventually to murdering his girlfriend, but the prosecutors would have done the intelligent and cautious thing, respecting the facts they knew about Mr. Remy’s disolute and violent life. They would have made a supportable judgment, despite the risk that a judge may have rejected it. Mr. Remy’s mortal assault following his release may not have been predictable, but it was not unimaginable, based on the record. These experienced prosecutors missed a chance to act to protect one of their vulnerable constituents.

Why is this a matter for Dukes County residents to consider? You may recall that in the past we have reviewed in these pages the record of lifelong drug dealer Richard Morris’s ins and outs — arrests, incarceration, bail, probation, release pending trial, re-arrest, bail reduction, bail revocation, etc. — as chronicled in the news and editorial columns of The Times. It was a tale that must disappoint any reasonable Dukes County resident.

It disappoints because it is so common. Drug dealers, drunk drivers, or domestic abusers, thieves of all descriptions — choose your own pernicious influence — too many of them flow in and out of the police reports and the court records. And, doing so, in addition to the damage their activities do to the Island community, they damage the Island community’s view of the judicial system.

What are the lessons that ordinary Islanders can take away from stories like Mr. Morris’s, or of Adalberto Pires, whose interactions with local and federal law enforcement authorities and the courts have a Three Stooges fascination to it?

For one, it is the clear perception that whether one steals $600,000 from customers who had every right to expect behavior that is beyond reproach from their legal counsel, an officer of the court, or whether it’s the theft of $200 worth of stereos to sell for money to buy drugs, whether one imports heroin and cocaine to retail to Islanders, whether one assaults a wife or a neighbor, or whether one is here illegally and compounding that illegality with more severe crimes, the consequence to the miscreant will be inconvenient but not onerous, certainly not a deterrent, as history clearly shows.

People in law enforcement will tell you that drugs are common and widely used, and that drug business and drug use are linked to criminality of a variety of sorts. Thievery, violence, and abuse are associated with drugs, and the social cost is significant.

Yet, despite broad agreement on this and on the toll that other apparently less squalid types of criminal activity exact from the community, we cannot argue confidently that the courts are helping to stem the criminal tide.

In many places in the nation, civic life is lived atop an underground criminal culture, which is accepted as the price of daily existence. It may be suppressed, the thinking goes, but not extinguished. The civic costs in human and financial terms must be assumed and paid. Here, small, intimately acquainted with one another, and apart from the greater nation, we might reasonably aspire to reduce the dangerous and withering cost to the community of criminal behavior.

In this small, inconvenient community, when there is the chance to exercise greater control over criminal behavior than seems possible elsewhere, and when law enforcement has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to catch and prosecute misbehavior, what’s wanted from the courts is something more than personal recognizance, low bails, probation, hopefulness, community service, confusion, and recidivism.