Incidents of genuine domestic violence are reported far too frequently in Massachusetts, but so are false domestic violence claims. If you are charged with a crime of domestic violence, you must have legal advice and guidance from the right Boston domestic violence defense attorney.

What constitutes a crime of domestic violence in Massachusetts? How are convictions for these crimes penalized? How can you defend yourself against a fabricated domestic violence charge? If you’ll keep reading, you’ll learn these answers, and you will also learn more about your rights.

Who is Defined as a Family or Household Member?

Under Massachusetts law, crimes of domestic violence are crimes that are committed against family or household members.

Family or household members are defined by statute as persons who are:

1. or were married or cohabitating
2. or were related by marriage
3. related by blood
4. parents of the same child
5. dating or have dated

What Crimes Are Crimes of Domestic Violence?

There is no specific crime called “domestic violence” in Massachusetts. Instead, the following crimes are considered crimes of domestic violence when they are committed against one or more family or household members:

1. any felony
2. assault and battery
3. any misdemeanor that constitutes domestic abuse

What Are the Penalties for Domestic Violence Convictions?

Of course, felonies and misdemeanors are always crimes, but when they become crimes of domestic violence, the penalties for convictions are harsher. For example, someone who commits an assault or an assault and battery on a family or household member can be sentenced to:

1. a maximum of 2.5 years in a Massachusetts house of correction and a maximum fine of $5,000 for a first offense

2. a maximum of 5 years in a Massachusetts state prison for second and subsequent offenses

The victim of an alleged crime of domestic violence cannot drop the charge in Massachusetts. A domestic violence charge can only be dropped by a prosecutor.

For assault to be considered domestic violence, the victim must have been a family or household member within five years of the alleged offense. An assault or an assault and battery committed by someone who knows that he or she is under a protective order is also penalized more harshly.

What Are Protective Orders and How Do They Work?

A protective order (or a “restraining” order) is a court order that requires someone to stay away from and avoid contacting the person who sought the court order. A household or family member who has been victimized by domestic violence can ask the court for a protective order.

Violating a protective order is also considered a crime of domestic violence in Massachusetts. Violating a protective order is punishable upon conviction with up to two-and-a-half years in a house of correction and a fine of up to $5,000.

An offender who is convicted of violating a protective order must also pay a special fine of $25, pay for all related costs incurred by the plaintiff, complete a batterer’s intervention program, and pay an additional fee of $350.

Massachusetts law requires a police officer to place a suspect under arrest if the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed a crime of domestic violence against a family or household member or has violated a protective order.

What Can a Protective Order Require?

When someone requests a protective order, both parties must appear at a hearing where the person seeking protection is called the “plaintiff” and the alleged abuser is called the “defendant.”

If the court determines that domestic violence has happened or may be imminent, it will issue the protective order. A protective order can:

1. prohibit a defendant from contacting the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s children
2. order a defendant to vacate and stay away from a residence or workplace
3. award a plaintiff temporary child custody
4. restrict visitations with minor children
5. order a defendant to pay temporary spousal or child support
6. order a defendant to pay restitution for any losses suffered as the result of abuse
7. order a defendant to pay the plaintiff’s lawyer’s fees

What If a Protective Order is Needed Immediately?

If a plaintiff can demonstrate an immediate danger of domestic violence, the court can issue an emergency (or “ex parte”) protective order without notifying a defendant or requiring a defendant to appear in court.

However, when an ex parte order is issued, a defendant must be notified immediately and given a chance to appear in court within ten days. If the defendant doesn’t appear, the order remains in effect.

Along with a temporary or emergency protective order, the court can also order a defendant to turn over all firearms, firearm licenses, and ammunition. The defendant may then ask the court to review the order.

A protective order remains in effect for one year, although a plaintiff may seek an extension.

Why Are False Domestic Violence Claims Made?

Domestic violence is a genuine concern for far too many Massachusetts families, but false domestic violence allegations are also a concern. Such phony charges can be made for a number of reasons or for no apparent reason at all.

An ex-spouse, for example, may claim domestic violence to seek an advantage in a custody or property dispute. A resentful teen may file a false charge against a stepparent. Defense attorneys, judges, and family law attorneys routinely see and deal with false domestic violence allegations.

Nevertheless, a report of domestic violence is always treated seriously in Massachusetts, because when it isn’t, a tragedy can happen. Along with criminal penalties like fines, probation, and jail, a conviction for a crime of domestic violence may also result in:

1. losing the right to own a firearm
2. losing child custody rights
3. if you are a professional, the revocation or suspension of your professional license
4. if you are an immigrant, the possibility of removal

If You Are Charged With a Crime of Domestic Violence

If you’re convicted of committing a crime of domestic violence, you cannot expect leniency from the Massachusetts courts, because there will not be any. You’ll need to avoid a conviction, and to do that, you’ll need help from the right Boston domestic violence defense attorney.

Whether the allegation against you is a fabrication or the truth, if you are charged with a crime of domestic violence in the Boston area, you must put the matter in the hands of a criminal defense attorney who can bring your case to its best possible conclusion.

Toland Law, LLC