There are three questions on the ballot for the upcoming state election on Tuesday, November 6. The three are about as unrelated and disparate as one could imagine.
The first question asks voters to adopt a proposed new law that would require minimum staffing by nurses in every hospital in the state. We have to admit that when we started reading the full text of the very lengthy proposed new law, our eyes began to glaze over because of the use of terminology that may be common to doctors and nurses, but which means little to the rest of us.
However, what is clear is that those who proposed this question have a good idea of what they’re doing.
We doubt there is anyone who would dispute that nursing care in hospitals is critical for patients. It also is beyond dispute that avoidable mistakes in hospital care are a leading cause of death of patients in even the best hospitals.
In our view, this ballot question comes down to a cost/benefit analysis: Is the added cost of minimum staffing for nurses (and by the way, no one really knows what that dollar figure might be) worth the undisputed benefits for patient care?
Question 2 seeks to amend the U.S. Constitution to limit the spending by corporate entities. The amendment is designed to overturn the Citizens United decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which declared unconstitutional the limits imposed by Congress on campaign spending by corporations.
In deciding this question, voters would do well to recall the words of Louis Brandeis, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
The only way to change Citizens United is to amend the Constitution — a drastic measure, no doubt .
Question 3 seeks approval of an already-existing state law, that was approved by the legislature in 2016, that bans discrimination against transgender persons. The law has been working well and is endorsed by many groups and organizations, including the Mass. Police Chiefs Association. A “Yes” vote keeps in place the current law.
A Chelsea man pleaded guilty last week in federal court in Boston to being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Cesar Alicea, 22, pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm. U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns scheduled sentencing for Nov. 7, 2018.
In December 2017, Alicea was indicted along with Andres Perez, of Chelsea, who was charged with possessing cocaine base and heroin with intent to distribute. It is alleged that Alicea and Perez are members of the East Side Money Gang.
On Oct. 31, 2017, Alicea was in a car that was stopped by law enforcement officers. As Alicea ran from the police, he was observed throwing an item. Shortly thereafter, Alicea was apprehended by police and arrested. The item was recovered and determined to be a .25 caliber Raven Arms pistol.
The charge of being felon in possession of a firearm provides for a sentence of no greater than 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
A member of the prosecution team that handles cases in Chelsea and Revere was honored with a prestigious award named after a former school teacher, Suffolk prosecutor, and Boston City Council member, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said.
Assistant District Attorney Priscilla Guerrero received the Brian J. Honan Award for Excellence in the Courtroom and Commitment to the Communities We Serve at a ceremony held last month at Suffolk University. The award is presented annually to a lawyer who pursues a criminal justice mission that balances outstanding legal work with community advocacy above and beyond the call of duty. Honan, who died suddenly in 2002, worked alongside Conley as an assistant district attorney in the 1990s before taking a seat representing Allston/Brighton on the Boston City Council.
“Priscilla is a mentor to high school and college students and a resource for her colleagues,” Conley said. “But perhaps most important of all, she shows a high-functioning moral and ethical compass that makes us all very proud.”
Guerrero started in the DA’s office as an intern before being hired in 2011 as a member of the Community Relations staff, where she helped organize Conley’s annual Soccer and Basketball for Peace tournaments, recruited volunteers for the Bowdoin/Geneva neighborhood clean-up project, and received special recognition from the Boston City Council for her efforts. She co-founded the weekly Reading Day event at the Joseph Lee K-8 School in Dorchester, which brings prosecutors, police officers, and other criminal justice officials into the classroom to read to young children – a program that got a widely-circulated mention on Twitter from the children’s author Cynthia Levinson earlier this year.
When Guerrero made up her mind to attend Suffolk Law School, she did it while working full-time and still managed to graduate a semester early. Taking a new role in the office as a paralegal, she helped brief and moot a series of cases heading to the Massachusetts Appeals Court, and as an Assistant DA she argued them – including a serious domestic violence stabbing conviction that was ultimately affirmed by the court.
Though currently assigned as a line prosecutor in Chelsea District Court, Guerrero continues her role as an active ambassador for the DA’s office at the annual Martin Luther King Day Breakfast, Taste of Chelsea, and Basketball and Soccer events. In 2016, when she was named one of El Mundo Boston’s Latino 30 Under 30, she used her platform to promote the prosecutor’s job as an important and satisfying one that benefits the entire community. And on the day she received the Honan award, she organized a pot-luck breakfast celebration at the Lee School for the school year’s final Reading Day program.
“Priscilla has spent seven years building bridges with the people our office serves,” Conley said. “She’s focused especially on the kids and teens who count on us for safe neighborhoods. She’s a leader in and out of the courtroom and I’m very proud of everything she’s accomplished as a prosecutor and community advocate.”
The Honorable Stacey Fortes, Robert A. Brennan, and Paul C. Dawley applaud the Honorable Matthew J. Machera after the Oath Of Office was administered. Machera was sworn in on Weds., June 27, as the new First Justice of the Chelsea District Court. Machera had been the acting First Justice, and it became official on June 27 at a ceremony that packed Courtroom 1 at Chelsea Court.
A Chelsea man pleaded guilty June 19 at federal court in Boston to his role in a large-scale methamphetamine trafficking and money laundering ring operating between Massachusetts and California.
Steven Beadles, 60, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine and one count of possession of 50 grams or more of methamphetamine with intent to distribute. U.S. Senior District Court Judge George A. O’Toole Jr. scheduled sentencing for Sept. 24, 2018.
Beadles was one of 11 men from Massachusetts and California who were indicted in 2016 after a two-year investigation into methamphetamine trafficking. The indictment alleges that beginning in at least 2013, the defendants participated in a conspiracy to transport sizeable quantities of methamphetamine from San Diego, to Massachusetts, where it was distributed in the Greater Boston area. Proceeds from the sale of that methamphetamine were then transported and/or transferred back to California and laundered in various ways.
In his plea agreement, Beadles admitted that agents seized approximately 434 grams of methamphetamine that had been shipped from California to the house where Beadles was living in January 2016, that he knew that the package contained methamphetamine, and that he intended to distribute some of the drugs.
Each charge provides for a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and up to life in prison, five years and up to a lifetime of supervised release and a fine of up to $10 million. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
An East Side Money Gang (ES$G) member was sentenced last week in federal court in Boston on racketeering and drug trafficking charges.
Henry Del Rio, a/k/a “Junior,” a/k/a “JR,” 21, of Chelsea, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns to five years in prison and four years of supervised release. In February 2018, Del Rio pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity, commonly known as RICO, one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and cocaine base, one count of conspiracy to distribute heroin, and one count of possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number.
Del Rio is a self-admitted member of the ES$G, a Chelsea-based street gang, which uses violence to further its criminal activities and enforce its internal rules. Specifically, ES$G uses violence to protect its members/associates, target rival gang members/associates and intimidate potential witnesses. The ES$G is also involved in drug trafficking, including cocaine, cocaine base (a/k/a crack) and heroin in Chelsea and surrounding communities.
Del Rio conspired with other gang members and associates to distribute heroin and other drugs in Chelsea. Additionally, Del Rio sold a confidential informant a .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun with an obliterated serial number and a 30-round, high-capacity magazine from Del Rio’s residence on Gerrish Street in Chelsea. Del Rio is one of 53 defendants indicted in June 2016 on federal firearms and drug charges following an investigation into a network of street gangs that had created alliances to traffic weapons and drugs throughout Massachusetts and to generate violence against rival gang members. According to court documents, the defendants, who are leaders, members, and associates of the 18th Street Gang, East Side Money Gang and the Boylston Street Gang, were responsible for fueling a gun and drug pipeline across a number of cities and towns in eastern Massachusetts.
An MS-13 member pleaded guilty recently in federal court in Boston to racketeering conspiracy involving the murder of a 16-year-old boy in East Boston.
The victim was identified as Christofer Perez de la Cruz.
Jairo Perez, a/k/a “Seco,” 27, a Salvadoran national, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity, more commonly referred to as RICO or racketeering conspiracy. Perez admitted that his racketeering activity involved the Jan. 10, 2016, murder of a 16-year-old boy in East Boston.
Under the terms of the proposed plea agreement, Perez will be sentenced to 35 years in prison. At today’s hearing, the Court accepted the defendant’s guilty plea but deferred acceptance of the plea agreement until the sentencing hearing. Perez will be subject to deportation proceedings upon completion of his sentence. U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV scheduled sentencing for Sept. 11, 2018.
The investigation revealed that Perez was a member of MS-13’s Trece Loco Salvatrucha (TLS) clique. Evidence showed that on Jan. 10, 2016, Perez and other MS-13 members murdered a 16-year-old boy whom they believed to be a member of the rival 18th Street gang. The victim was stabbed and shot multiple times. A few days after the murder, Perez was caught on tape admitting to stabbing the victim multiple times, and he was arrested soon thereafter. Perez was also recorded burying the knives used to murder the victim in a park on Deer Island in Winthrop.
After a multi-year investigation, Perez was one of dozens of alleged leaders, members, and associates of MS-13 named in a superseding indictment unsealed in January 2016 that targeted MS-13’s criminal activities in Massachusetts. Perez is the 48th defendant to be convicted as part of that ongoing prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts. To date, all eight defendants who have gone to trial have been convicted, and 40 other defendants have pleaded guilty.
Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) recently announced that the landmark criminal justice reform package crafted by the Massachusetts Legislature has been signed into law. The Senator had previously joined his legislative colleagues in overwhelmingly voting to pass this sweeping piece of legislation, and last week the Governor signed the bill into law. An Act relative to criminal justice reform will lead to a more equitable system by supporting our youngest and most vulnerable residents, reducing recidivism, increasing judicial discretion, and enhancing public safety.
The legislation contains provisions to provide better care for vulnerable populations in the criminal justice system, and implements policies to strengthen protections for public safety and witness protection. The Legislature also passed the accompanying Act implementing the joint recommendations of the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Review (H.4012), which is designed to complement the comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation. The CSG bill allows individuals to earn early release by participating in recidivism-reduction programs.
For the first time in the history of Massachusetts, this legislation establishes a process for expunging criminal records. Courts will now be able to expunge certain juvenile and young adult (18-21) records, and records in cases of fraud or where an offense is no longer a crime.
The Legislature has a longstanding legacy of supporting the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable children, particularly those facing trauma and adversity. Accordingly, this bill raises the minimum age of criminal responsibility from seven to twelve and decriminalizes a first offense misdemeanor if the punishment is a fine or imprisonment for not more than six months. The legislation establishes a Juvenile Justice Policy and Data Commission, which will make the state eligible for additional federal funding, and a Childhood Trauma Task Force to study and recommend gender responsive and trauma-informed approaches to treatment of youths in the juvenile justice system. The bill also extends Good Samaritan protections to alcohol incapacitation for individuals under 21.
This legislation reflects a balanced, modern approach to sentencing. It eliminates mandatory and statutory minimum sentences for many low-level, non-violent drug offenses. Additionally, it creates the nation’s strongest law for Carfentanil trafficking and strengthens the existing Fentanyl trafficking law, bolstering the Legislature’s multi-tiered approach to the opioid epidemic. The legislation also strengthens penalties for repeat offenders convicted of operating under the influence (OUI).
The new law requires district attorneys to create pre-arraignment diversion programs for military personnel, veterans, and individuals with addiction or mental health issues in order to combat the opioid epidemic and provide healthcare parity. It also expands diversion programs to the Juvenile Court and removes the existing age restriction on diversion in the District Court.
Following reforms in 2010 and 2012, this legislation again updates the Commonwealth’s criminal offender record information (CORI) system to help individuals secure gainful employment and housing, enacting the following policies:
Reduces the wait time to seal a conviction from ten years to seven years for a felony, and from five years to three years for a misdemeanor.
Allows a conviction for resisting arrest to be sealed.
Expands the ability of an applicant with a sealed record to be able to answer “no record” on housing and professional license applications.
Establishes protections for businesses and landlords who shall be presumed to have no notice or ability to know about criminal records that have been sealed or expunged.
This legislation updates the Commonwealth’s bail system and enhances judicial discretion by requiring a judge to take a person’s financial resources into account when determining bail. It also raises the threshold for larceny to qualify as a felony from $250 to $1,000. It also creates the crime of solicitation that is tied to the severity of the underlying crime.
Additional policy changes include: reduction of fees imposed on defendants; decriminalization of minor offenses; enhanced limits on solitary confinement; improvement of prison conditions; and release of prisoners who are permanently incapacitated and pose no safety risk.
On Tuesday, April 10, at Chelsea District Court, the courtroom was filled with people who had arrest records as long as the Declaration of Independence. They sat at the tables where defendants usually sit.
They’d all been there before numerous times due to their addiction, drug use and petty crimes. This time, though, they were there to graduate – to acknowledge that they’d completed a program at least 18 months long with the courts that helped them turn their lives around.
The program is Drug Court, and it was innovated in Chelsea in 2000 and continues strong through the support of judges, probation officers, recovery coaches and other resources. It is a last stop, last chance for many people who have been in and out of jail for their entire lives.
“It saved my life,” said Erin Eckert, cradling her young toddler girl and noting that she was at the lowest one can get while on the streets of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass in Boston’s South End – known as Methadone Mile. “It took me a long time to do this and make the decision. When I did, it literally saved my life.”
On Tuesday, seven people graduated from the program. Most had been in jail several times, had years or decades of court involvement. This time, though, they changed that trajectory. Most had been clean for more than a year, and most were employed. Families and supporters came to celebrate.
SJC Justice David Lowy was the keynote speaker, sharing how he had lost a cousin last year to opiate overdose. Almost all of the big players in the state’s judiciary were in attendance.
Everyone cried, but they were tears of celebration and relief.
Chelsea started and innovated the program years ago, and now there are drug courts in many of the urban District Courts that are built on that same model. It is a strike against the opiate epidemic, and one that works for many people.
“This last time I was up and down with it,” said Kristen Barnett, who entered the Drug Court in February 2015. “All I know is I changed my life this time. I don’t know what to say why I did it this time, but I did. I’m happy to be here today.”
Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley this week welcomed new community partners to an ambitious diversion project, hoping to double the capacity of a program that allows juveniles charged with some serious offenses to get their lives back on track without incurring additional entries on their records.
Conley’s office launched the Juvenile Alternative Resolution pilot project in February 2017 with half a dozen community-based agencies that provide individualized services to Boston’s youth. In May, the partner agencies began accepting juveniles who faced delinquency charges in the Boston Juvenile Court and showed a moderate to high risk of re-offending. And yesterday, Conley welcomed a new batch of agencies to the team.
“Historically, juvenile diversion in Massachusetts has been geared toward first-time and low-level offenders, and it’s been limited in the services available to promote post-diversion success,” Conley said. “We envisioned something more ambitious – something that would re-direct the lives of young people charged with more serious offenses, even high-risk teens. We sought out partners who could offer individualized services for a wide range of needs. And our shared goal across agencies was to divert young adults outward, away from the criminal justice system, instead of upward and deeper into it.”
By March of this year, 45 juveniles had entered the JAR program and received supervision, support, and services through one or more community partner agencies. Of that number, 12 successfully completed the program and 31 are on track to do so.
Together, the 45 participants accounted for 100 offenses. Almost two-thirds of those offenses were classified as “crimes against the person,” including assault and battery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and unarmed robbery. Some were as young as 11, but about half were 16 or 17 years old. About 60% of the juveniles were from Dorchester or Roxbury, about two-thirds were male, and almost all were youth of color.
Participants are also showing significant drops in the risk and need factors they had when they entered, Conley said, reflecting a course correction in the trajectory of their lives. Because JAR-eligible delinquency complaints are placed on hold upon entry to the program and dismissed upon completion six to nine months later, the cases never appear on the participants’ juvenile records.
By expanding the available partners, Conley hopes to double the program’s capacity in the year to come – and continue to accept even juveniles who have prior system involvement and face moderate- to high-level charges. The goal, he said, was to juvenile involvement in the criminal justice system in Suffolk County – and the barriers to social, academic, and employment success that can follow.
“We were warned that there was a risk in taking this older, more experienced cohort into the program,” Conley said, “but what we’ve seen thus far convinces me that the rewards outweigh that risk.”
In addition to formal diversion through the JAR program, first-time and low-level juvenile offenses are informally diverted every day by Suffolk prosecutors. Throughout the year, almost 60% of the county’s delinquency complaints were diverted, with diversions outnumbering youthful offender indictments by more than 10 to one.
“That’s as it should be,” Conley said. “Some crimes are extremely serious and some offenders pose a danger to the community. But most kids and teens come to us with minimal records for minor offenses – better suited to the justice of an angry parent than the Juvenile Court. The JAR program is for youth in between, whose actions are more serious but don’t include gun violence, sexual assault, or serious bodily injury.”
The first group of community partner agencies included Action for Boston Community Development’s Changing Tracks Initiative, the Justice Resource Institute SMART Team, MissionSAFE, the Salvation Army’s Bridging the Gap program, the RFK Children’s Action Corps Detention Diversion Advocacy Program, and UMass Boston. Yesterday, Conley welcomed new partners to the fold – including a collection of youth service programs offered through Action for Boston Community Development, the Charlestown Coalition’s Turn It Around program, More Than Words, and YouthConnect.
“Every life is a journey, and as youth service providers you’re the map and compass these kids need,” Conley told the assembled group. “We’re changing those young lives today, but we’re changing outcomes tomorrow that will strengthen families and communities for years to come. We’re making Boston a safer, fairer place. And that’s a legacy we can all be very proud of.”