How Does Massachusetts Define Domestic Violence? What Is the Criteria?
Though domestic violence is not expressly defined in Massachusetts, Chapter 209A of our General Laws outlines what constitutes abuse. The starting requirement is the involvement of a family or household member. That could include people who are married or engaged to each other, people who live in the same household, those related by blood or through marriage, a couple who’s had a child together, and even a couple in what is termed a “substantial dating relationship”. To determine what a “substantial dating relationship” is, the judge will look at a number of factors – such as, the type of relationship it was, how long the relationship was, how often the parties interacted with one another, and how long the relationship was over. So, for a case to fall into the area of a covered domestic abuse statute, the alleged victim first has to be a family or a household member.
I’ve Just Been Arrested on Charges Related to Domestic Violence in Massachusetts. What Exactly Am I Being Charged With?
If you’re charged with a domestic violence incident in Massachusetts, you, first of all, have to have been involved with a family or household member. The charges typically are for: (1) violation of a restraining order; (2) an assault and battery on a family or household member; or (3) an assault on a family or household member. The most common charge would be a restraining order violation, which is an allegation charging you with attempting to cause physical harm to another person, causing actual physical harm, or putting another person in imminent fear of serious physical harm. Another common charge is assault and battery on a family or household member, and even strangulation. The less typical domestic violence charge would be forcing a family or a household member to engage in involuntary sexual relations.
When Police Are Called to the Scene of an Alleged Domestic Violence Incident, Is an Arrest Generally Made?
An arrest will be made in almost all cases. There are statutes in Massachusetts that require the police to make an arrest if they see an incident of domestic abuse occur in their presence, but the police also will make an arrest if they believe they have probable cause to make an arrest. For example, the police are responding to a scene where they don’t see an assault and battery take place but have one person with a bloody nose or a bruised face who’s reporting that they’ve been assaulted or battered by the other family or household member. The police will generally make an arrest in compliance with their requirement to make sure that the public and the alleged victim are safe. Probable cause to make an arrest is a low threshold to meet. It is far below the evidentiary standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt required to convict a person after trial. The bloody nose or bruising gives them probable cause to act in the best interest of public safety before they can leave the scene.
Is the Threat of Violence Enough to Bring Charges Related to Domestic Violence or Does There Have to Be an Alleged Physical Altercation?
A physical altercation is not required for a charge related to domestic violence to be made. Again, the definition of abuse under our restraining order violation law includes even an attempt to cause someone physical harm or to put that person in fear of imminent serious physical harm. Also, the crime of assault does not require physical contact. An assault can be made in one of two ways. First, it is an attempted battery, which is an attempt to cause physical contact – such as an attempt to punch a person. Second, it is an immediate threatened battery – such as conduct by a defendant that is intended to put an alleged victim in immediate fear of a threatened battery that causes the alleged victim to reasonably perceive the conduct is a threatened battery. Physical contact is not necessarily required.
Is an Order of Protection or a Restraining Order Automatically Put Into Place Once Charges Related to Domestic Violence Are Filed?
These orders are not automatically put into place. When police respond to a scene in Massachusetts involving an allegation of domestic violence, they will tell the alleged victim that they have the right to get a restraining order. The police can even contact the on-call emergency judge if an alleged victim wants to pursue an emergency restraining order. Oftentimes, an alleged victim will tell the police that they don’t want a restraining order, so the police will document in their report that they offered the alleged victim the opportunity to get an emergency order and that it was declined. If, however, an alleged victim does ask for an emergency restraining order, generally speaking, the on-call judge will give the restraining order, which starts the process of putting a temporary restraining order in place. The defendant is given notice and will then get an opportunity to go to court to contest the actual issuance of a lengthier order.
If charges are not brought as a result of an arrest on scene, but instead by way of a summons, the District Attorney’s Offices have a Victim Witness Advocate in court. Generally speaking, either the assistant district attorney or the Victim Witness Advocate will speak with an alleged victim of domestic abuse and let an alleged victim know about the right to seek a restraining order.
For more information on Domestic Violence in Massachusetts, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (508) 503-6440 today.
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