The House and Senate both passed a crime bill late Saturday night that gives prosecutors the option of seeking dangerousness hearings for defendants charged with felony firearm offenses.

The measure, which was sought by Bristol County District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter, now only needs Gov. Deval Patrick’s signature to become law. His approval is expected.

Sutter’s office had regularly sought dangerousness hearings against defendants charged with gun felonies, but the practice was stopped when the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled on May 4, 2009, that it was unclear whether the Legislature intended the dangerousness statute to cover gun crimes.

The bill restores to prosecutors the option to request dangerousness hearings whenever a defendant is charged with carrying an illegal firearm outside home or work; illegally possessing a machine gun or sawed-off shotgun; illegally possessing a high-capacity firearm; or illegally possessing a firearm after having been convicted of a serious felony.

If defendants are found to be dangerous, they can be held for 90 days without bail.

“The people of Massachusetts will strongly benefit from the passage of this amendment,” Sutter said Sunday in an e-mail commenting on the vote, “especially those who live in urban areas. Gun violence is exacting a terrible toll on our society — here in Massachusetts and throughout the country.”

The district attorney said that more than 90 percent of the gun violence in Bristol County is being committed by those who have no lawful right to have a firearm.

“In my opinion, the best way to change the behavior of those individuals who are terrorizing our communities with these illegal guns is to let them know that if they are caught, they will be held without bail, prosecuted within 90 days and then convicted and sentenced to jail or state prison for a long time,” he said.

Local and state officials, interviewed Sunday afternoon at the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament in New Bedford’s North End, said the bill will help reduce gun violence by getting criminals off the streets.

“It’s really a tremendous tool for the District Attorney’s Office to keep urban areas safe,” said Mayor Scott W. Lang, a former prosecutor.

Source: Curt Brown for South Coast Today.

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