Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley is a driving force in local and statewide efforts to prosecute violent offenders and protect those who are victims of or witnesses to crime. His accomplishments as district attorney include powerful anti-gang legislative initiatives, an overhaul of the way police and prosecutors gather and use eyewitness evidence, and opening Massachusetts’ first Family Justice Center – a centralized facility that coordinates law enforcement and social service responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. He has also devoted significant resources to protecting citizens from the growing threats of identity fraud, online child enticement, and other Internet-based crimes, and he continues to lead the Commonwealth in developing new tactics and strategies to fight gun violence.
Conley’s persistent efforts to raise awareness of — and propose solutions to — the issue of witness intimidation come from his experience as a prosecutor in a county where victims and witnesses were targeted for violence, threats, and coercion in an overwhelming majority of gang-related cases. His relentless advocacy led to the passage of a comprehensive 2006 anti-gang bill that stiffened the penalties for intimidation, illegal gun possession, and other offenses, and – perhaps most importantly – finally established a witness protection fund to relocate and assist victims and witnesses whose cooperation with authorities can put them at risk for retaliation. To date, no critical witness has been denied access to protection funds.
In 2006, Conley’s close cooperation with the Trial Court of the Commonwealth led to the implementation of a Special Grand Jury dedicated exclusively to hearing and indicting homicide and complex gun- and gang-related cases. This Special Grand Jury is unique to Suffolk County, making Boston, Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop the only cities and towns in Massachusetts to be served by two fully operational grand juries, where prosecutors may subpoena sworn testimony. The confidential nature of the grand jury, where evidence and testimony are tested for their accuracy and veracity before being introduced at trial, enables prosecutors to build the strongest, most ethical cases with witnesses who may otherwise be reluctant to come forward.
Conley also worked with the Trial Court to establish the Gun Priority Disposition Sessions – commonly known as Gun Court – which divert certain cases of illegal gun possession from three of Boston’s busiest municipal courts to one location where they can be heard and adjudicated more rapidly. Initially intended to halve the one-year average it once took for a gun arrest to go to trial, Gun Court has exceeded every expectation, with cases now being disposed in less than six months while maintaining a conviction rate approaching 90%. By reducing the time that armed offenders spend free on bail and by enforcing the stricter mandatory minimums brought into effect with the anti-gang legislation, Gun Court has put defendants who carry illegal firearms on notice that their behavior will not go unpunished. More than that, Gun Court has been cited as a factor in the recent decline in non-fatal shootings in the City of Boston.
In 2004, Conley and the then-Commissioner of the Boston Police Department empanelled a blue-ribbon task force to evaluate the ways in which police gather and prosecutors use eyewitness evidence. In an effort to ensure that the historical wrongful convictions that came to light under his leadership never reoccurred, Conley assigned his top courtroom prosecutor to join with ranking police officials, prominent defense attorneys, and the nation’s leading academic expert on eyewitness identification to review the investigative processes by which eyewitness evidence was gathered and recommend changes that would minimize the likelihood of faulty identifications.
The panel returned with a sweeping set of unprecedented reforms that were rapidly implemented by area law enforcement, prompting defense attorney Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project to cite Boston and Suffolk County “at the forefront of the country” in averting wrongful convictions, and eyewitness evidence expert Gary Wells to call them, “the ‘Gold Standard’ to which other jurisdictions should aspire.” Eyewitness evidence has never been stronger, more accurate, or better utilized than it is under Conley’s administration.
Under Conley’s stewardship, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office partnered with numerous service providers, government agencies, and victim advocacy groups to build the Family Justice Center of Boston. The FJCB streamlines services for victims of child abuse, intimate partner violence, and sexual crimes by coordinating the responses of numerous agencies and providers – including police, prosecutors, social workers, and others – under one roof. The burdens on victims are reduced while efforts to hold their abusers accountable under the law are enhanced.
Also operating out of the FJCB is the Support to End Exploitation Now (SEEN), a multi-agency task force directed by members of Conley’s office that was twice named one of the Top 50 Innovative Government Projects by the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Bringing together more than three dozen local, state, and federal agencies from the public, private, and non-profit sectors, SEEN aims to identify and track girls and young women who have been exploited by prostitution, treating them as the victims they are while aggressively prosecuting the pimps and johns who abuse them. By educating teachers, doctors, shelter employees, and others about the phenomenon of prostituted teens, SEEN identified in its first year of operation almost ten times as many exploited youth than had been identified in the year prior by the relatively small number of agencies then aware of the problem.
To stay ahead of criminals who steal other people’s identities and use them to steal money and goods, and to protect young people from predators who troll the Internet for vulnerable victims, Conley has also bolstered the unit that handles identity and financial theft cases and computer-related crimes. This unit, the Special Prosecutions Unit, in 2004 secured a guilty plea in what is believed to be the largest embezzlement case in the office’s history, and its Computer Crime Division created a curriculum presented in Suffolk County schools educating children and teenagers on the dangers of communicating with strangers through the Internet. Members of the Computer Crime Division were recently asked by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Youth to represent the Boston area in a nationwide observation of Missing Children’s Day.
Conley has been responsible for these and other initiatives since being appointed District Attorney for Suffolk County on Feb. 19, 2002. He won election to the office on Nov. 5, 2002, again on Nov. 7, 2006, and most recently on Nov. 2, 2010.
Upon assuming leadership of the largest district attorney’s office in New England, Conley vowed to further strengthen the partnerships between prosecutors, police, clergy and ministers, civic groups, and residents in all Suffolk County neighborhoods. These partnerships, the district attorney believes, are vital to punishing criminals, helping victims, and building the public’s faith in the criminal justice system.
As district attorney, Conley is the chief law enforcement officer for Boston, Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop. He oversees an office of more than 300 men and women, about half of whom are prosecutors.
In addition to overseeing a staff that handles nearly one thousand indicted cases every year – many of them violent crimes and cases of large-scale drug dealing and serious fraud – Conley also focuses on such quality-of-life issues as vandalism, car theft, and low-level drug dealing to ensure that Suffolk County neighborhoods are safe and stable. He has pledged to help the most vulnerable members of society, including children, the elderly, and victims of domestic abuse.
Embracing the motto “All success is shared,” Conley has worked to strengthen partnerships with other agencies throughout the county, a philosophy exemplified through his office’s work with the Boston Police Department in regular information-sharing meetings that identify impact offenders and geographic patterns to violent crime. Suffolk County gang prosecutors also meet weekly with their federal counterparts to review every single gun arrest in the City of Boston to determine where and how it will be best prosecuted. Under Conley the district attorney’s office also works closely with various agencies on Project Re-Entry – an attempt to help adult inmates assimilate to life outside prison through educational and employment opportunities upon their release – and a parallel program for juvenile inmates upon their release from youth services facilities. He also has partnered with the Suffolk County Register of Probate to implement a new policy to help victim advocates assigned to the DA’s office provide support services and information to people who apply for restraining orders.
Prior to becoming district attorney, Conley served on the Boston City Council, to which he was first elected in 1993. During his tenure as chairman of the Council’s Public Safety Committee, Conley focused on numerous initiatives aimed at making Boston a safer city. He authored several ordinances that limit teenagers’ access to knives, as well as a home rule petition that prevents convicted batterers from obtaining a firearms license.
From 1984-93, Conley served as an assistant district attorney in Suffolk County, specializing in prosecutions of homicides and other major felonies, including drug trafficking, gang violence, and domestic abuse.
As a prosecutor, Conley was among those law enforcement professionals who in the late 1980s worked to combat an alarming increase in youth violence in Boston, especially among gang members. Through their prosecutions of violent offenders, Conley and other prosecutors helped write the first chapters of what would, during the 1990s, become a nationally recognized success story – Boston’s highly effective war against street violence.
In 1999, Conley was presented with the O’Riordan-Mundy Award, an honor bestowed by former prosecutors, in recognition of his distinguished service to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, the legal community, and the citizens of Massachusetts. In 2003, he was named the Suffolk Law School Irish-American Law Society’s Person of the Year in that award’s inaugural presentation. In 2005, he was named Lawyer of the Year by the Frank J. Murray Inn of Court for outstanding contributions to the pursuit of ethics, civility, and professionalism in the courtroom. In 2008, he was awarded the Boston Bar Association’s Distinguished Public Service Award for his work to rectify historical wrongful convictions and prevent their recurrence.
In addition to these awards, Conley has also received various honors and awards recognizing his work in prosecution from the Sons of Italy, Stonehill College’s St. Thomas More Society, the Massachusetts Fraternal Order of Police, the Irish-American Police Officers Association of Massachusetts, and Stop Handgun Violence, a non-profit organization.
Conley is a former president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association, is on the Board of Directors of the National District Attorneys Association, and is a member of both the Board of Directors of the YMCA of Greater Boston and of Catholic Memorial High School.
Conley live in Boston with his wife and two children.