A Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court justice ruled to vacate the charges against a man arrested at the Straight Pride Parade in response to a petition filed by District Attorney Rachael Rollins. She filed it last week to overturn Judge Richard Sinnot, who had insisted on upholding the charges despite the prosecution’s requests to have them dropped. The record of the arrest will also be expunged, Rollins said in a press conference on Monday.
“Fundamentally, the judge had no authority to ‘deny’ the Commonwealth’s entry of a nolle prosequi,” wrote Justice Frank Gaziano in his decision. “His effort to do so violated the Commonwealth’s constitutional rights under art. 30 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, and infringed upon the separation of power enshrined therein.”
A nolle prosequi is an abandonment of charges by the prosecutor. Sinnot has refused to drop the charges for dozens of other people arrested at the parade and protest as well. The judge overstepped his boundaries in his refusal to acknowledge the prosecution’s decision to drop the charges, Rollins argued.
“I find it really interesting, though, that when a district attorney uses discretion that they’ve had since 1806, but it’s not moving toward incarceration it’s not moving toward wealth and race disparities and it’s turning the other way, people are suddenly asking lots of questions,” Rollins said at the press conference. “Nobody cared before. We care now.”
The decision to press or drop charges has consistently been placed in the hands of the prosecutor, Gaziano wrote. Sinnot had argued that the prosecution failed to notify the “victims” of the charges that the defendants were appearing in court, preventing them from attending the hearing. Gaziano ruled this explanation to be unacceptable because disorderly conduct is a crime against the public, not an individual victim. Even if there had been a victim, a judge is not permitted to overturn a nolle prosequi, the justice wrote.
There are still several open cases that the DA’s office will now revisit. Some were already arraigned. Other cases were dismissed when the nolle prosequi was filed.
“With respect to the pending cases I think this makes it clear we can do what it is we proposed we want to do,” Rollins said at the press conference.
The prosecution did not file to have the charges dropped for eight people and those individuals were arraigned because they were allegedly violent, Rollins said. Four police officers were injured, and they still have not returned to work, according to the DA.
“Any indication that this administration does not take seriously violence against law enforcement or the community is false,” she said.
Featured Image by Colleen Martin / Heights Editor