Our Opinion: Worrisome decision by DA on bail case

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In her successful campaign, District Attorney Andrea Harrington embraced criminal justice reform, whose principles are designed to prevent the system from mistreating the poor and members of minority groups. Specifically, she promised that the bail process would not be abused in this fashion, but the first significant case involving pretrial detention, a part of the bail process, on the new administration's watch provided a worrisome indication that -this important part of the bail process may not be used properly to achieve a main purpose — to protect the public.

Jameail C. Beckett, of Pittsfield, had been charged with four counts of armed and masked robbery in Pittsfield between Dec. 18 and Dec. 28, the date of his arrest. The incidents took place at a Family Dollar store, the All-town Market and two different Angelina's Sub Shops, and in each of the first three instances, witnesses described a man wearing a mask or having his face otherwise obscured brandishing a gun and demanding cash. Mr. Beckett pleaded not guilty to these charges.

A dangerousness hearing can be held at the request of the prosecution to determine if the release of someone charged with a serious crime endangers the safety of the community in general or any specific person. One week earlier and before Ms. Harrington was sworn in, the same prosecutor had requested such a hearing to confine Mr. Beckett until his case was tried. This request was continued for a full hearing to this past Friday. It is hard not to conclude that the release of a person accused of brandishing a weapon in the course of committing three violent crimes would endanger the community.

Last Friday as the hearing was about to be begin, the prosecutor and the defense counsel told the court that they had arrived at an agreement to allow Mr. Beckett's release subject to a set of conditions, a provision also included in the law. However, Judge Tyne refused to accept this agreement saying that Mr. Beckett's was the strongest case for detention she had seen in her career; and, she ordered that he be detained pending trial. (Bob Dunn, Eagle, Jan. 5).

Does this signal a dramatic change in philosophy on the part of the District Attorney's office when it comes to the use of detention? If so, the result could place our community at undue risk of violence. The Beckett case could be an isolated error in judgment but if so it is an error that surely alarmed a city, including its retail business community, all of whom are understandably anxious about the proliferation of gun violence on its streets.

In her desire to protect the rights of the accused, District Attorney Harrington must not be so zealous that she fails to protect the rights of the larger, law-abiding community. We urge the district attorney to strike a better balance going forward.

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