Governor Janet Mills has vetoed yet another law on criminal justice reform that has passed the legislature, all but killing it without a vote to override it.
The proposed legislation, LD 844, would have removed the authority for a court to impose certain pre-conviction bail conditions - that a person remain employed or seek employment, start an education program, or report to a law enforcement agency on a regular basis.
It would also have stopped courts from completely banning alcohol for pre-conviction bail and probation unless they were involved in a ‘specialty’ court. The default would have been excessive use, rather than a total ban. Similarly, searches and tests for alcohol and illegal drug use would have been based on reasonable suspicion, and only random for special courts like drug or veterans courts.
Currently, release conditions can often give law enforcement complete and total discretion to search people’s things, cars, etc without any basis at all. This is often used to circumvent the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
In her veto letter she called the proposals “unworkable.” she also said they would “weaken” current law.
“[J]udges and bail commissioners should have latitude to place appropriate restrictions on an individual who seeks pre-trial or post-conviction release from jail or prison. For some, that may be a complete bar on use or possession of alcohol.“
She added: “Alcohol use and abuse is a common contributing factor to criminal activity. Prohibiting its use during periods
of release [pre- and post-conviction] can be an essential means of both protecting public safety and helping individuals to refrain from self-destructive behavior during a time of stress.”
The bill would also have stopped the payment of a fine or restitution as part of the conditions of post-conviction conditions, and ended the failure to participate in a treatment condition as a violation if probation.
In her veto letter, the Governor added: “Judges, who have the benefit of a factual record in each case, should have discretion in dispensing the appropriate sentence for a violation of law. This should include determining whether an individual must participate in a treatment program during
probation. The purpose of having a condition of probation that requires participation in treatment is to encourage rehabilitation and reduce recidivism. It would be a serious mistake to eliminate the
consequence for failing to comply with a probation condition that a person engage in a treatment program.
On the issue of financial penalties being imposed for probation, which could be a violation of not paid, she added: “Defendants and prosecutors often resolve cases by having a person take responsibility in the form of a fine, rather than time in jail. Failure to pay a fine could be contempt of court, but it is far preferable to ensure the fine is paid at the time of, or while on release, rather than in a separate, later court action. If the individual is unable to pay the full fine amount immediately, this can be addressed through a payment plan. It would be misguided, however, to prohibit judges from requiring a fine's payment as a condition of release.”