BOSTON (SHNS) – The Massachusetts Senate is poised Thursday to advance a trio of bills further tweaking the state’s criminal justice system, particularly as it relates to the detention or supervision of young people accused of crimes.
The attention to criminal justice issues comes as the House and Senate each load the legislative hopper with bills that they hope will make it through the other branch and onto next month’s laundry list of end-of-session priorities. The topics expected to be covered in Thursday’s Senate session — juvenile justice and forfeiture reform — were cited by Senate President Karen Spilka as areas of interest in January.
“And there’s other issues we’re meeting with folks to find out more about. Juvenile justice issues that we still can be working on, specifically. … Yeah, juvenile justice is an area that I’ve heard from a lot of senators and folks that expungement we still need to clarify, and some other areas as well,” Spilka said at the State House in January, adding that senators were also looking at civil asset forfeiture.
One of the bills (S 2942) on Thursday’s agenda deals with “judicial supervision to promote child well-being” and would allow a juvenile court to divert a child to a community supervision program or similar service for certain offenses, including first offense of assault and battery on a family or household member, assault with a dangerous weapon, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon if there was no serious bodily injury caused, and certain motor vehicle offenses, according to a bill summary provided by the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Senators have proposed 13 amendments to that bill.
Another bill up for consideration Thursday (S 2943) addresses bail procedures for young people who become involved in the criminal justice system. The legislation, which has just one amendment pending, would eliminate the $40 bail fee for juveniles and allow people to pay bail fees with mobile payment options. The bill would carry an annual cost of $50,000, according to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
The same bill would require an officer to immediately notify the bail magistrate in situations where a child between the ages of 14 and 18 is arrested while the court of jurisdiction is not in session, and it would authorize the bail magistrate to direct that officer to accept the “written promise” of a parent, guardian, custodian or Department of Children and Families representative to be responsible for the child’s appearance in court.
The Senate on Thursday is also planning to take up a bill (S 2944) overhauling the state’s laws that enable law enforcement to seize property suspected to be involved in a crime.
The legislation, which is a Senate Ways and Means Committee rewrite of a Judiciary Committee mashup of a handful of forfeiture bills, would require the government to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the property sought is forfeitable — the standard of proof used by most other states around the country. That topic was a hot discussion point when the Special Commission on Civil Asset Forfeiture weighed its recommendations last summer.
The Senate bill would also prohibit forfeiture by the attorney general or a district attorney of anything worth more than $250 in value, provide a right to counsel for certain people at hearings on petitions to order forfeiture, and would prohibit law enforcement agencies from the “official use” of forfeited items.
Senators are also looking to require that forfeited money and the proceeds from the sale of forfeited property be deposited into a trust fund that is subject to legislative appropriation. There have been 12 amendments proposed to the forfeiture bill.
The Senate is scheduled to gavel in at 11 a.m.