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Bail should not be a tool to keep defendants behind bars

Re “Sex offender on bail charged again” (Metro, Aug. 7) and “Bail fund faces supporter backlash” (Metro, Aug. 12): The outrage displayed in reporting on the Massachusetts Bail Fund is misplaced. Everyone charged with a crime is protected by the presumption of innocence. The only legitimate purpose of bail is to determine an amount that will ensure a defendant comes back to court. Bail is not a tool to prejudge a defendant as guilty and jail that person until a trial.

Where prosecutors believe the defendant poses a threat if released, they must seek a dangerousness hearing, where a defendant has the right to offer opposing evidence and to present a defense. This process protects the public and upholds our constitutional rights.

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Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins defended her decision to use high bail rather than seek a dangerousness determination in the case of sex offender Shawn McClinton because she claimed that the hearing could traumatize the alleged victim. First, an alleged victim’s testimony is not necessary at a dangerousness hearing; a judge can reach a decision based on other evidence. Second, any prosecution may be traumatizing for an alleged victim, but that does not mean that we send people to jail without a trial or without a court finding that there is sufficient justification to deprive them of their liberty.

The Massachusetts chapter of the National Lawyers Guild fully supports the Massachusetts Bail Fund in its policy of posting all bails regardless of the charges. Bail means pretrial liberty for the well-to-do and pretrial incarceration for those with modest resources. We cannot allow prosecutors to use high bails to avoid a constitutional dangerousness hearing, and we cannot allow freedom to depend on wealth. Thanks to the incredible work of the bail fund, defendants are actually realizing the promise of being innocent until proven guilty, and our judges and prosecutors are being forced to adhere to the law.

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Bonita Tenneriello

Cochair

Zachary Lown

Board member

Massachusetts chapter

National Lawyers Guild

Boston

Tenneriello works as an attorney with Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, and Lown is a criminal defense attorney.


Without presumption of innocence, we’re all at risk

I fully agree with Boston Police Commissioner William Gross that it is appalling that someone with Shawn McClinton’s history would be freed on bail (“Sex offender on bail charged again”). I am equally appalled that the commissioner, as an official sworn to uphold the law, would launch such a blatant and public attack on due process. There are legal mechanisms for denying bail, and the commissioner should focus on those.

While everyone is aware that our system of jurisprudence holds that everyone is presumed to be innocent until found guilty, it may be time to reflect on why we originally adopted that principle. Without the presumption of innocence, we are all at risk of serious harm from malicious false accusations. The Founding Fathers were all too familiar with this danger, and they decided that it was better to risk having some guilty people go free than to risk having innocent people languish in jail.

In practice, of course, you get what you pay for, even in the legal system, so groups such as the Massachusetts Bail Fund are necessary. The direct results of their actions help secure justice for the poor, but their very existence helps ensure continued justice for the rest of us.

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James W. Slack

Lexington