Under new Massachusetts law, domestic violence arrests not initially made public

No one condones domestic violence. Violence among family members can devastate households. From discussions on the NFL's treatment of those accused of domestic violence to prevention and enforcement initiatives across the country, it seems, rightly, that there should be a concerted effort to prevent domestic violence.

Both victims and those accused of domestic violence, however, have a right to privacy. Making publicly available information regarding a police visit on suspicion of domestic violence can harm families and discourage those in real danger from contacting the police. That is the theory behind Massachusetts' new law that prohibits police departments from releasing police logs with identifying information. The law is not without its critics, but many advocates for battered women support the new law, as do Massachusetts residents - and criminal defense attorneys - concerned with privacy rights.

Under the new law, information regarding sex crimes and domestic violence charges will not be made public until after the arraignment of the accused. Previously, police were required to include information in their logs, which are publicly available.

Domestic violence charges come with a host of emotions. The family involved and the public at large may have strong feelings about the matter. It can be too easy for those accused of domestic violence to be "guilty until proven innocent" in the eyes of the public. But everyone has the right to a fair trial, and releasing information to the public even before a person can speak to an attorney or begin to defend himself may unnecessarily punish the innocent.

While the news is good for people arrested on suspicion of domestic violence who are innocent of wrongdoing, that does not mean Massachusetts has lessened any of the enforcement or punishments for domestic violence. In fact, as part of a new law passed this past summer, people facing charges of domestic violence may receive greater punishments than ever before.

Other domestic violence provisions

The new law, signed by Governor Deval Patrick in August, contains provisions intended to prevent domestic violence and stiffen punishments for offenders. These provisions include:

  • Requiring a "cooling off" period for those arrested on suspicion of domestic violence, meaning those arrested must remain in jail for six hours before being released on bail or arraigned.
  • Making strangulation and suffocation felony offenses.
  • Strengthening education in schools on domestic violence.
  • The creation of a Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance Fund, designed to prevent domestic violence and provide assistance to victims.

The above is by no means the complete list. Massachusetts enacted 49 provisions in the new law related to domestic violence crimes.

The harm caused by a criminal record

An arrest and criminal conviction for domestic assault can lead to a variety of punishments, some of which have lasting significance. For example, being convicted on domestic violence charges can lead to the loss of a job, as well as difficulty finding employment in the future. That is in addition to fines and jail time, both of which are significant. Depending on the exact charges, and whether there were any previous offenses, domestic violence charges can escalate quickly and may include felony charges. Worst of all, perhaps, is the punishment of not being able to see your family at all.

Massachusetts residents who are charged with domestic violence should immediately speak to experienced criminal defense attorneys like those at the Yannetti Law Firm to discuss their legal options and protect their rights during an extremely difficult time.