COVID-19 Concerns Prompt Massachusetts Courts to Release Many Held in Pre-Trial Detention

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the country, the nation’s prisons are quickly becoming hotspots for the virus. Indeed, a recent news article documents the pervasiveness of COVID-19 in state prisons across the country. Massachusetts prisons are no exception. A local news outlet recently reported that more than 150 inmates and staff have contracted the coronavirus in the state’s jails and prisons.

Given this reality, many have raised concerns over the safety of those who are in custody. Since the beginning of the pandemic, civil rights organizations and defense attorneys have tried to get the courts to release as many incarcerated people as possible, with some success. Recently, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court handed down an opinion discussing how lower courts should handle petitions for release in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Court first acknowledged the safety concerns surrounding the continued incarceration of individuals during the pandemic, noting that the “unprecedented and urgent conditions created by the global COVID19 pandemic necessitated judicial action to reduce the population of those held in custody.”

The Court essentially broke down incarcerated individuals into categories. The first category is comprised of those who are being held on bail and have not yet been to trial. Many of these individuals had already filed motions for release that were denied. The Court explained that the pandemic constitutes a “change in circumstances” which, practically speaking, means they are entitled to refile their motion for release. Additionally, the Court explained that these individuals are entitled to a “strong but rebuttable presumption of release.” Notably, this does not apply to those who are awaiting trial for certain serious offenses. Excluded offenses include:

  • any crime involving the use of physical force or a deadly weapon against another person;
  • burglary;
  • extortion;
  • kidnapping; or
  • any crime involving the use of explosives

The Court listed a few specific crimes that fall into one or more of these categories, including murder, mayhem, assault with the intent to murder, strangulation, armed robbery, home invasion, and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Of course, those who are being held without bail are not eligible for release under the Court’s opinion.

For those individuals who have already been sentenced, the Court was less helpful. The Court explained that its judiciary powers did not permit it to order stays or suspensions of sentences unless that person  filed a motion within 60 days of being sentenced. The Court explained that the proper remedy to address these concerns was through executive action, rather than judicial action.

Are You Being Held in Custody During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

If you are currently incarcerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be a way to secure your release. Attorney Patrick J. Murphy is a dedicated Massachusetts criminal defense attorney who has been working tirelessly since the beginning of the pandemic to get his clients released from custody. He represents clients facing serious charges, including Massachusetts gun offenses, drug crimes, and allegations of sexual assault. To learn more about how Attorney Murphy can help you with your case, and potentially secure your release, call 617-367-0450 today.

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