The Massachusetts Justice System: The Introduction of Mal Actions In Place of Crimes

A City By

Norman and Roger having been arrested for breach of the peace and assault and battery spent much time going back and forth to court. Massachusetts spent time and money on having them do this. The ultimate resolution of their criminal matter was that nothing happened. Norman and Roger were the same type people before their arrest as afterwards although a little disturbed at the unnecessary inconvenience and aggravation they not only caused themselves but the criminal justice system caused them.

No one was punished unless we consider making people do unnecessary trips to the court as some type of punishment. No one was deterred because the next time someone gets involved in a dispute over a parking lot he or she won’t remember what happened to Norman and Roger and calm down. Society wasn’t made any safer by having them go through the rigmarole of the court system which I maintain has changed little since Dickens time.

I have suggested throwing out most crimes and turning them into mal actions. Mal actions would be acts that society seeks to discourage, police or control but in the big picture does not consider them a serious offense, mostly what we now consider misdemeanors. They would be handled outside of the court room setting electronically. For people without computers the local police would have a mechanism established to overcome that difficulty.

Here’s one way I envision it would be handled.  After the cops took Norman and Roger away and calmed them down, they would take their information including emails, run their records and let them go.  Within a week they would then be notified by email and regular mail that they were being charged with the mal action of disorderly conduct and assault and battery.

The email would have a statement of facts supporting the charge of the mal action which the police officer would have filed. The police officer would be allowed to make a recommendation relative to the incident such as no further action, regular fine or institute criminal process.  Norman and Roger would be  told they had two weeks or so to set forth their response.

A mal action reviewer, a neutral party preferably someone who has had a responsible position during his or her life and is in a retirement-type situation looking for something to do to keep busy would review the paper work.  He or she would have certain guidelines to follow as judges do now in relation to criminal acts. The reviewer would assess the penalties, if any were warranted, which would be of a relatively minor nature in the form of monetary assessments.

Norman and Roger would have been advised no record of the event would be public or be part of their criminal record. They would be told that they need not report having been arrested for a crime since this is a mal action.  They would be advised the only use of the existence of their having committed a mal action would be in the case they committed another mal action.

We would have to keep a record of them because certain mal actions would be deemed crimes if repeated. Take disturbing the peace, in some instances it is a one time occurrence in a parking lot but in others, especially in the crowded cities, it can be a real problem. I once passed it off as a nothing crime but the Mayor of Savin Hill, Danny Ryan, gave me a few examples of people keeping the neighborhood awake at night with their shenanigans. I recognized that I forgot what it had been like to grow up among the three-deckers.

Our goal as members of a community is best be described by Justice Elijah Adlow a brilliant and long-serving justice of the Boston Municipal Court. He said that “the whole point of culture [is] to give everyone peace, quiet, and the right to enjoy life.”  We would need an effective way to stop people who engage in repeated mal actions by at some point making them crimes.

If either Norman or Roger party balked at the assessment, he could request the mal action be turned into a criminal offense. He would then have to  go through the inconvenience of the usual court process. He would not have a court appointed attorney since judges would be prohibited from providing a lawyer in such situations because no incarceration was faced.

There would be a steep fee for making the request to turn it into a criminal action which would be two or three times the original assessment. There would also be a substantial difference in the monetary penalty if the person who balked were to be found guilty.

We have enough serious matters in our courts without the noise of minor matters cluttering up our courthouses. We can make better use of our police officers lessening their times hanging around courthouses. I’ll talk more about what DAs can do about the system next time I talk about our ancient way of handling criminal matters.




4 replies on “The Massachusetts Justice System: The Introduction of Mal Actions In Place of Crimes”

  1. I agree ! it does make too much sense. I was once clipped for driving with a suspended license. I was to go to court the following Monday. I was working in a local restaurant with an open kitchen and I happened to see the bail bondsman from the night before that had come down to sign and let me bail out ( $40 bail fee ). he was at the bar and looked at me a couple times. As he was leaving he saw me, stopped and said, ” didn’t I just see you the other night ? ” I lowered my head with embarrassment and said ” yes it was, and I’m sorry you had to come down so I could post bail ” he chuckled and said ” no problem ” and then asked what I do here and I told him. He must of decided I was a good kid because he said he would be at the courthouse on Monday and to come see him before I went in front of the judge because the DA was a friend of his. I did and as soon as I stepped in front of the judge the DA approached the bench and the next thing I knew I was told I was all set and to pay the $35 victim witness fee and I was free to go. I thought to myself, wow ! that was easy and what a waste of time considering the outcome was made just like that and dismissed. so why did they waste all that time for something they didn’t really seem to care about ? So I absolutely understand and agree %100 that mal action should be practiced.

    P.S. this also reminded me of something my father always said. ” it’s not always what you know in this world, sometimes it’s WHO you know. ”

    P.P.S. It also reminds me of something I always say. ” Common sense isn’t that common “

    1. CraigMack:
      I’m sure your example is one of hundreds of thousand that show how ridiculous the present system is. You could have been charged with a mal action of driving after suspended and given the chance to pay $35 or whatever on-line without the embarrassment and going to court and learning that the system is about who you know rather than what you’ve done. If you didn’t run into the bail bondsman you would have been given a huge run around and probably a fine of $100 bucks after a few more wasted days in court. It is time to change the system. It should be run for the convenience of the people rather than the inconvenience of everyone involved. I just read what you said your dad said and I guess I just repeated it. As far as what you say about common sense you’re right, at least among the law profession. Maybe the problem is judges are too content with the title of judge and don’t care how the system operates since they are the privileged few who make a good living at the usual happening. Mal actions are what we should be pushing for and maybe some day we’ll get a Speaker in the House or a Chief Justice who might see the great cost savings. I suppose if we let the judges know that some of the savings could go to an increase in their state salaries we’d be able to grab their attention.

  2. this has no chance of actually being implemented in the state of Massachusetts. It makes way too much sense!

    1. Declan:
      You are absolutely right if we leave it up to the legal system to do it. It is something that would have to go beyond that. It’s difficult to think of anything innovative that has ever happened when you have judges and lawyers involved in things.

Comments are closed.