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Domestic Violence Questions & Answers

Those who are the subject of a restraining order may also find themselves facing allegations of domestic violence. As such, this final installment in our series of articles on restraining orders in Massachusetts digs into some of the more common questions asked by those facing allegations of domestic violence.

The previous articles with information on the various types of restraining orders are available here.

#1: When is a fight more than a fight? What is the definition of domestic violence?

Anyone who has been in a relationship knows that emotions can run high. Disagreements happen. But when is that disagreement more than just an argument? When does it rise to the level of domestic violence?

The answer will likely depend on state law. In Massachusetts, abuse is defined as the occurrence of one or more of the following between a family or household member: attempt to cause physical harm, the actual causing of physical harm, placing in fear of imminent serious physical harm, or causing another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat, or duress.

For the purposes of domestic assault and battery charges family or household members include those who are married, have a child together regardless of marital status or living arrangements and those who are engaged or have a substantive dating relationship. A substantive relationship depends on the length and type of relationship as well as the frequency of interaction between the parties. Even without the presence of a substantive relationship, the prosecution could still move forward with criminal charges for other crimes like stalking or criminal harassment.

#2: What happens if my partner calls the police and makes accusations of domestic violence?

The dispatcher who answers the 911 call will likely send two officers to the scene. During the call, the dispatcher will try to gather information about the safety of the caller, the nature of the incident that led to the call and whether there any weapons or other potential hazards like pets that could put responding officers at risk of injury. Additional information will likely include a request for descriptions of people there and whether there are children at the scene.

#3: Will I get arrested?

It is important to know that the Commonwealth instructs police in Massachusetts to take a “pro-arrest, pro-prosecution” approach to these calls. The police need only to have probable cause that a crime occurred to move forward with an arrest. In these situations, uncorroborated statements by an alleged victim can satisfy this requirement.

If arrested, the police can keep those who are 18 or older without bail for a minimum of six hours if they believe you violated a restraining order or committed an act that constitutes abuse.

#4: Will I go to prison?

Domestic violence crimes can include assault and battery, stalking, strangulation, and abuse prevention order violations. Penalties for these crimes vary but can include:

  • Assault and battery. This can come with 2.5 years imprisonment or a $1,000 fine.
  • Stalking. Up to 5 years imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.
  • Strangulation. This can come with up to 5 years imprisonment and a $5,000 fine.
  • Violation of a prevention order. Up to 2.5 years in a house of correction.

The penalties vary depending on the facts and can include more than one charge, meaning the ranges noted above can quickly add up to a much larger sentence.

#5: What should I do next?

Those who are the subject of criminal charges are wise to take action to protect their rights. Defenses are available and a plan can be tailored to your unique situation. Do not hesitate and hope the matter will resolve on its own. Take action and defend your rights so that you can move forward with your future as quickly as possible.

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