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Editorial: Improving legal responses to domestic abuse

Privilege, fame and wealth are not supposed to influence the American justice system. That’s the idea behind the concept of “blind justice,” where treatment under the law is supposed to be without fear or favor.

In the real world, unfortunately, justice does sometimes peek from under her blindfold and tilt her scales, leading to miscarriages of justice and, at times, tragic events.

A recent Boston Globe story showed just how far the justice system can veer — one small step at a time.

Jared Remy, son of Boston Red Sox announcer Jerry Remy, was well known by the legal system long before he was charged with killing his girlfriend, Jennifer Martell, in their home while their 5-year-old child was in the house. Before this arrest, Jared Remy, 35, had been in court for all kinds of violence against women and yet over the course of 20 years was continually treated with leniency with little, if any, real repercussions for his actions.

In providing money for bail and attorneys, Remy’s parents were part of the reason for that pattern. Looming larger than the Remys’ understandable love and concern for their errant son, though, were those on the bench who were willing to look past the charges, his legal history and the prosecution’s pleas to provide Remy with little more than a slap on the wrist, time and time again.

Eventually, this created a sense of immunity, entitlement and security for Jared Remy. As for his victims — the ones who the legal system was supposed to be protecting — they were frustrated and afraid — and often injured.

That’s not supposed to be the way justice works ... and we’re not alone in that opinion.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Attorney General Martha Coakley have filed legislation to update the state’s laws with an aim at better serving and protecting the victims of domestic violence. The House passed it and now it is with the Senate.

The legislation would take a number of different steps to level the playing field in domestic abuse cases. It creates a “first offense” domestic assault and battery charge and adds new versions of domestic crimes, including special penalties for strangulation and suffocation, violence that is often seen as precursors for deadlier future action.

And under the new laws, judges would be provided with the defendant’s legal history, including past charges and restraining orders, when considering bail requests and during sentencing.

The bill also would give domestic abuse victims time to create a safety plan before allowing those accused of battery out on bail.

Domestic violence training would be available to court personnel every two years.

“This bill was born out of a tragedy. Following a shocking crime, I didn’t know how I could just sit back as a speaker, a father, a man, and not do everything I could to stop such senseless acts of violence,” DeLeo said.

“Almost unique with domestic violence, there are indicators; there are patterns. As so many folks I spoke to in preparing this bill said, it is preventable. And that was the key word that stuck with me throughout this whole process, that many of these acts are preventable.”

This legislation is a start toward a form of justice that is less likely to offer special treatment for such serious offenses.

But it still will be incumbent on police officers, prosecutors and judges to make sure they are not being influenced by a defendant’s fame, connections or wealth.

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