Massachusetts’ domestic violence policies have become a central political issue with the enactment of new domestic violence legislation last summer. The new law has stirred up controversy from all perspectives, including criticism from several district attorneys’ offices, victim advocates, and criminal defense attorneys.
Among the new law’s most drastic changes include a new crime of “first-offense domestic assault,” new mandatory delays for setting bail of individuals charged with domestic violence, permissible employment leave for domestic violence and sexual assault victims, mandatory training for police, judges, and prosecutors, and giving the crime of strangulation felony status.
Additionally, the law makes all domestic violence information, including the identity of suspects, and victims contained in police reports confidential. Usually police logs are reported daily in the newspapers and sometimes on television news shows. Now, under the new law, this information cannot be disclosed. The purpose of this new confidentiality is to protect victims. Lawmakers and lobbyists researching domestic violence believe that victims are less likely to come forward and report incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault if there is a possibility of their identity being released to the public. Even releasing just the name of the perpetrator risks disclosing the victim’s identity by association. Thus, the law makes all of this information unavailable to the public. Of course, once the suspect is arraigned, his or her identity will become public.
Critics of the law argue that the public has a right to know about dangerous individuals within the community. The new policy could also hinder law enforcement investigation and police’s ability to track down suspects because they can no longer post pictures or names of individuals wanted in connection with domestic violence reports online or in the newspaper.
In addition, the new law created a special category of offenses when they occur in the domestic violence contact. For example, a domestic assault and battery is an assault and battery where the perpetrator and the victim are members of the same family or household. Family or household members include spouses, individuals living together, individuals related by blood or marriage, individuals who have children together, or individuals who are dating or have dated. Sexual orientation is irrelevant for purposes of family or household members.
When police respond to a domestic violence report, or have probable cause to believe that a person has committed a domestic violence offense, they are required to make an arrest. This means that the police no longer have discretion to charge an individual without arresting him, or if a situation appears to have been resolved. The new law also lowers the standard for finding a defendant “dangerous” and holding him without bail for 120 days pending trial.
In addition to the new law, Massachusetts has several other laws aimed at combatting domestic violence. For example, individuals who fear abuse by a member of their household can obtain an abuse prevention order under M.G.L. Chapter 209A. The statute defines abuse as actual or attempted physical abuse, placing another in fear of serious physical harm, or causing another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat of force, or duress.
Family and household members are defined to include spouses and former spouses, blood relatives, relatives by marriage, current or former household members, and individuals with whom you have had a significant dating relationship.
These new laws regarding domestic violence underscore the Legislature’s desire to halt domestic violence in the Commonwealth. It also reflects a growing concern around the country that domestic violence is underreported and too leniently punished. In the wake of this political movement, and very public incidents of domestic violence in the news, law enforcement and prosecutors have stepped up their efforts to investigate and prosecute domestic violence incidents.
For individuals accused of domestic violence, this means that charges need to be taken seriously. Even if a victim recants, prosecutors may still go forward with a prosecution, and plea deals will likely be harder to negotiate. If you have been charged with a domestic violence crime, call the Massachusetts domestic violence defense attorneys at the law firm of Altman & Altman today. Our experienced domestic violence defense lawyers will provide you with the legal assistance you need to resolve your case and move forward with your life.
For over 40 years, we have been serving clients throughout the Greater Boston Community. Call us today to schedule a free consultation. You will meet with a senior member of our domestic violence defense team to discuss your case, and your rights and options. Your lawyer will be available to your at all hours to answer your questions and address your needs. You will be guided by an expert attorney throughout the criminal justice process, and we will work tirelessly to get you the best result possible.