New laws increase penalties for domestic violence offenses

States throughout the country, including Massachusetts, are taking steps to increase the penalties associated with domestic violence convictions.

Domestic violence is a serious offense in Massachusetts. The term is defined by state law as "physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault, between family or household members; sexual assault of one family or household member by another; or stalking of one family or household member by another family or household member." A family or household member can include a current or former spouse, relation through blood or marriage, person residing within the same home, two individuals that have children together or anyone in a dating relationship.

Current penalties for a violation of Massachusetts' domestic violence laws can include two and a half years of imprisonment along with a $1,000 fine, probation and mandatory counseling. These penalties increase in the event a protective order was in place at the time of the alleged offense.

While these penalties are severe, Massachusetts is one of a number of states throughout the country which are taking steps to further increase the penalties associated with domestic violence crimes.

One example is Ohio, which recently passed a law that adds six years to a prison sentence for certain domestic violence convictions that include the use of an accelerant. Upon signing the bill into law, Governor John Kasich noted that this was not likely the last change to increase the penalties associated with domestic violence crimes.

Connecticut's Legislature also recently passed a bill that enhanced domestic violence laws and the Iowa Legislature is currently in discussion about increasing the penalties associated with these crimes. Iowa is even considering implementation of mandatory minimums for certain domestic violence offenses.

Massachusetts has also taken recent steps to increase penalties connected to domestic violence violations, and a Massachusetts congresswoman has introduced a bill in Congress that would expand the definition of stalking to include acts or threats of violence against a victim's pet. This federal legislation likely will open the doors to equally expanded legislation on the state level. Another proposal being considered would require higher education institutions to enhance the process of handling accusations of domestic violence within college campuses.

Protect yourself

Domestic violence is a serious offense. Penalties that result from a conviction can include prison time, monetary fines, probation and mandatory counseling. As noted above, it appears that these penalties are likely to increase in the future.

These accusations can also cause serious harm to an individual's reputation and can negatively impact one's professional aspirations and educational opportunities. It is important that those who are accused of domestic violence take the accusations seriously. Defenses are available and can lead to the reduction or dismissal of criminal charges. An attorney with experience and a proven track record can aid with this process as well as fight to reduce or eliminate any potential future repercussions that can stem from even the initial accusations. Contact a knowledgeable attorney to discuss your options.