NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

April 11, 2014

Domestic violence laws create huge loophole

In their rush to respond to the brutal slaying of Jennifer Martel, the Massachusetts House of Representatives has passed a bill that ironically would protect people like Jared Remy, her accused killer, as well as the victims of such serial abusers.

The version of the bill passed unanimously on a voice vote by the House on Tuesday includes language that would keep reports and arrests involving domestic abuse and assault off the police log, which is currently open to the public. A separate, secret police log would be created to document those reports.

Supporters of this provision say guaranteeing confidentiality would encourage more victims of abuse to come forward to report it.

A case can be made for that argument, but it also creates an enormous problem — keeping the reports secret would also shield the identity of their alleged abusers.

This is an extraordinarily bad idea for several reasons.

It creates a subset of serious crimes that are no longer subject to the long-established rules of disclosure and public notification that are applied to all crimes in this state. For example, under this law, you will have the right to know if your neighbor was stopped by police and summonsed to court for having a broken taillight. But if that same person beats a family member senseless with a baseball bat, you will not be allowed to know that.

A public arrest log is a bedrock element of the public’s right to know. This is not a police state, where you can be picked up off the street and made to disappear without anyone knowing what happened to you.

It also helps prevent law enforcement and others from covering for the powerful and politically connected or pressuring their victims.

There are examples to cite. In 2010, a woman who reported she was violently attacked by an aide to New York Gov. David Paterson later complained she was pressured by state police and the governor himself to back off. When she subsequently failed to appear in court to press her case, the aide went free.

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