Supreme Judicial Court (December 28, 2010)

A Superior Court judge has the authority to review and modify pretrial conditions of release imposed on a defendant by a District Court judge pursuant to G.L. c. 276, § 58A.

The defendant was charged with one count of assault and battery after slapping and attempting to choke his estranged wife. Pursuant to G.L. c. 276, § 58A, the Commonwealth filed a motion for pretrial detention on the basis of dangerousness. After the defendant stipulated to his dangerousness, the Commonwealth withdrew its detention motion and instead filed a motion for the defendant's release with conditions. The defendant agreed to all of the conditions that the Commonwealth requested.

Subsequently, the defendant filed a bail review petition in the Superior Court seeking to modify his curfew condition. The Commonwealth did not object, and the judge amended the defendant's conditions of release. The defendant again filed a bail review petition in the Superior Court further seeking to amend his conditions of release. The Commonwealth opposed the defendant's motion, arguing that the Superior Court did not have the authority to hear the motion and that the defendant's only recourse was a petition to a single justice of the SJC. After a hearing, the judge allowed the defendant's motion and stayed the order so that the Commonwealth could file a petition pursuant to G.L. c. 211, § 3. The single justice reserved and reported the case to the full court.

General Laws c. 276, § 58A provides for three increasingly graduated degrees of restraint: 1) released on personal recognizance without surety, 2) released subject to specified conditions, or 3) detained. Section 258A (7) states that "[a] person aggrieved by the denial of a district court [judge] to admit him to bail on his personal recognizance with or without surety may petition the superior court for a review of the order of the recognizance." The Superior Court may "order that the petitioner be released on bail on his personal recognizance without surety, or, in his discretion, to reasonably assure the effective administration of justice, may make any other order of bail or recognizance or remand the petitioner in accordance with the terms of the process by which he was ordered committed by the district court."

The Court acknowledged that, where possible, it must construe various provisions of a statute as working together in harmony. The Court recognized that section 58A does not define "admit…to bail" and "personal recognizance," but found that the plain language of section 58A (7) makes it clear that an individual is "aggrieved" when he is denied admittance "to bail on his personal recognizance with or without surety." As such, the Court found that by necessary implication an individual is "aggrieved" when he is either released on conditions or detained. The only circumstance where an individual is not "aggrieved" is when he is released on personal recognizance. Therefore, the defendant was entitled to file a petition for review in the Superior Court, and the judge had the authority to modify the defendant's conditions of pretrial release.