The Scott Hewitt case is still rippling across Maine statutes.

Hewitt, a trucker with a miserable driving record, killed Tina Turcotte of Scarborough in a tractor-trailer crash along the Maine Turnpike in Hallowell. Her death inspired Tina’s Law, which strengthened penalties for drivers with multiple, serious driving infractions.

It also was the basis for LD 514, a little-noticed bill from the last Legislative session which introduced a common-sense concept into the judicial process for setting unsecured bail. The law empowers judges to consider “public safety” when deciding an unsecured bail amount for defendants.

If you’re wondering why this hasn’t been statute all along, we’re with you. But until this month, judges were prohibited from considering the public’s safety when deciding bail. Making bail “unobtainable,” according to local attorneys, was outside a judge’s purview.

The new standard still allows judges to make unsecured bail obtainable. But more important, it gives judges an outlet for engaging in a little “preventative detention.”

Why is this common sense? We can think of three reasons: Scott White, Dwight Knox and Alvah Pike.

All three men, in the past three months, have been charged with attempted murder in Rumford. White stabbed his estranged wife three times, Knox allegedly stabbed a man in the neck, and Pike allegedly stabbed a man in a fight.

Both White and Knox were arrested, and bailed, under the provisions of the old law. With $50,000 surety set as bail, both were eventually released from jail. Two weeks after his release, White was shot and killed in a police standoff in Rumford, after threatening to burn his ex-wife’s home.

Knox, who has a long criminal record, also had his bail set at $50,000 surety, and he was released. One day after White was shot, Knox was arrested in Livermore Falls.

Pike, on the other hand, was arrested after Sept. 20, when the new law took effect. His surety bail was set at $250,000, a lofty sum which has kept him where he probably belongs for now: jail.

After White’s death, local law enforcement officials decried the bail system as broken for allowing his release. When people who are accused of violent crimes against other people are allowed to post a simple bail – $50,000 is meager in unsecured terms – it sure seems public safety is compromised.

Pike is one of the first violent offenders in Maine to be subject to this new law. Defense attorneys, as they’re wont to do, question the new law, and say constitutional issues will be raised.

We say let them, as protecting public safety should prove difficult to argue against.

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