Massachusetts Court Sides with Defendant in Manslaughter Case

Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued an opinion in a case involving manslaughter as well as assault and battery. In the decision, the court addressed something called the dangerousness statute, which is a law in Massachusetts that allows the Commonwealth to hold a criminal defendant without bail if that defendant is charged with at least one crime that the statute explicitly lists. On appeal, the defendant argued that he should not have been held without bail because his crime is not listed in the dangerousness statute. Agreeing with the defendant, the court rejected the Commonwealth’s argument and affirmed the defendant’s petition.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was driving an SUV when he collided with the back of a moving car. He then proceeded to sideswipe several parked cars on one side of the road. Despite these collisions, the defendant kept on driving, ultimately striking a pedestrian in the process. After hitting the pedestrian, the defendant’s SUV rear-ended another car and rolled onto its side, continuing to hit other vehicles as it rolled. There were twelve vehicles involved in the collisions, and the pedestrian ended up dying in the hospital due to her injuries.

Police officers determined that the defendant had suffered an opiate overdose immediately before the collision. The defendant also admitted that he had consumed two shots of whiskey and a few different prescription drugs preceding the crash.

The defendant was arrested and charged with several crimes, including manslaughter, assault and battery, felony motor vehicle homicide, and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs. The Commonwealth asked the court to keep the defendant in pretrial detention, and the court agreed, holding the defendant without bail.

The defendant quickly filed a petition for bail review.

The Decision

On appeal, the court was tasked with deciding whether the pretrial detention without bail was proper in this case. According to the Commonwealth, it was acceptable for the defendant to be put in detention without bail because of the dangerousness statute. The purpose of this Massachusetts statute is to allow courts to approve pretrial detention without bail in cases where the crime at hand is particularly and egregiously dangerous.

The defendant took issue with the use of this law, pointing out that the dangerousness statute lists a specific set of crimes that allows for the Commonwealth to keep a defendant in pretrial detention without bail. Neither manslaughter nor assault and battery, the two crimes the prosecution had cited in its argument, are included on this specific list of crimes. Thus, the defendant’s detention without bail was unwarranted.

The court agreed with the defendant, concluding that it is necessary for a defendant’s crime to be specifically listed in the dangerousness statute for the prosecution to make use of the law. Even though the crimes at issue did involve the use of physical force, that element was not enough to allow the Commonwealth to use the dangerousness statute.

Thus, because the crimes did not fall within the scope of the statute, the court sided with the defendant and affirmed his petition.

Have You Been Charged with a Dangerous Crime in Massachusetts?

If you or a loved one is facing charges of a violent crime in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, give us a call at the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy. We offer aggressive, individualized representation that considers all of the relevant circumstances to give you the fair fight you deserve. For a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 617-367-0450.


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