Whenever a particularly egregious case of domestic abuse makes the headlines, calls are made to toughen laws in response. Then, far more often than not, momentum is lost to the legislative process and attention shifts elsewhere. There is at least a chance that pattern will be broken on Beacon Hill this legislative session.
This week, according to Speaker Robert DeLeo, the House will pass legislation toughening domestic violence laws by, among other provisions, cracking down on repeat offenders. The impetus, according to the speaker and other legislators who spoke to The Boston Globe, is the long, violent history of Jared Remy, the son of beloved NESN broadcaster and former Red Sox second baseman Jerry Remy.
Jared Remy is in jail and awaiting trial on charges that he brutally murdered his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel, last August. A lengthy and horrifying Boston Globe story on the younger Remy that ran on March 23 revealed that 18 criminal cases had been brought against him before the murder charges, most of them involving harassing and/or assaulting five different girlfriends. In 10 of those cases charges were dropped outright, and six were dismissed after temporary probation. He was found guilty only twice and served modest jail time that clearly had no impact.
Mr. Remy benefited from a high-priced lawyer hired by his parents and the reluctance of the beaten girlfriends, either because they were too forgiving or too frightened, to testify against him. In that situation, the court system must step up, but the Globe story created a portrayal of a judicial system undermined by poor decisions of prosecutors and more significantly by a series of judges who ignored the recommendations of prosecutors and were inexplicably lenient when dealing with Mr. Remy. His offenses did not gain weight with repetition, as each judge appeared to consider each case in isolation. One after another they failed the victims, and the state's system of justice.
Along with the tougher penalties on repeat offenders, the House bill would require bail commissioners to justify their decisions in writing before releasing an accused batterer. A new crime, first offense domestic assault and battery, would be created, punishable by as much as 2 1/2 years in jail. Judges and other court personnel would be required to attend training sessions on domestic violence.
Edward P. Ryan, the attorney for Mr. Remy, told The Globe that he feared the legislation constituted a rush to quick fixes in the wake of a tragedy, but none of the proposals are outrageous, and better education on domestic abuse is obviously warranted. Unfortunately, sometimes it does take a tragedy to force overdue action. Elizabeth A. Lunt, the president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, argues that the need is for enforcement of current laws, not the institution of new ones. It is apparent that current laws are not being adequately enforced by the judicial system, but that does not mean laws to fill gaps or provide more options should not be considered.
With the nightmarish Jared Remy saga still front and center it is incumbent upon state officials to act. There is still time to save future Jennifer Martels.