AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that its backers say might have prevented Amy Lake and her two children from being murdered by her estranged husband last June was presented before the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Wednesday afternoon.
LD 1867 would require that bail be determined by a judge and not a bail commissioner when a crime involves domestic violence and that judges deny bail in certain circumstances.
Lake and her two children, Coty and Monica, were murdered by her estranged husband, Steven Lake, on June 13, 2011, in Dexter. Steven previously had been charged with criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon and domestic violence criminal threatening against his wife.
Several people, including Amy Lake’s parents, Ralph and Linda Bagley, spoke in support of the bill during the hearing.
“Last year, 11 Mainers died at the hands of people who claimed to love them,” said Laura Harper of the Maine Women’s Lobby. “We encourage the committee to support strengthening Maine’s bail system so that never again can a high-risk assailant merely rotate through bail and release.”
The bill’s sponsor, House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, also spoke in favor of the measure. LD 1867 is a governor’s bill that originated in the office of Gov. Paul LePage.
“This bill first identifies serious crimes that demonstrate that an offender has chosen and is capable of dangerous behavior,” said Cain. “It then manages those cases differently by triggering additional scrutiny and protective action by calling for judicial review of bail and full consideration of appropriate bail conditions.”
Walter McKee of the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers opposed the bill. He stated that bail commissioners are trusted with setting bail for serious crimes, and they should also be trusted with handling what may be a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.
“Often they will deal with these situations on a regular basis and make these decisions and we trust them to do that in serious cases,” said McKee. “But for whatever reason, in this bill, you’re asking that we not trust these bail commissioners with what relates to a misdemeanor violation of protection order. But, you know, an elevated aggravated assault involving a firearm at a bar and someone gets shot, but not killed, the bail commissioner can handle that one.”
McKee also questioned whether a judge would be more thorough than a bail commissioner.
“Do you believe a judge is going to have that level of detail and care more than a bail commissioner?” McKee asked. “I don’t think you’re going to get that extra bang for your buck.”
By preventing bail in some cases, it removes the presumption of innocence, said Alysia Melnick of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.
“No right is more firmly ingrained in our Constitution and our understanding of freedom than the right not to be left in jail indefinitely without charges filed or an opportunity to post bail,” Melnick said.
“Bail exists because of the most fundamental idea of our criminal justice system: Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” she added.
Ralph Bagley took issue with the opposition to the bill after the hearing.
“I thought it was a joke. The bail commissioner let them down,” he said, referring to his daughter and grandchildren. “I would hope if a judge had to sit there, that he would stop and look a little bit more than a bail commissioner would.”
Harper urged speedy passage of the bill.
“We have no time to waste,” she told the committee. “Maine women and their families depend on swift legislative action to provide them, law enforcement and our judicial system with the necessary tools to move our state one step closer to finally ending domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.”
The committee is scheduled to hold a work session on the bill Thursday.